"Mom is Aubrey adopted?" We had been in the car for maybe three minutes when he asked it. We have an open adoption and we love spending time with his birth family. We had just picked up his half-sister Aubrey for a sleepover.
"No, Aubrey is not adopted honey," I replied with hesitation. I knew where this was headed and it was gonna be ugly. "Why is she not adopted and I am??"
(insert heavy sigh from me)
"Well, honey, her mom....err....your mom...uhh...your birth mother...."
Oh geez. This wasn't pretty.
"She decided to be Aubrey's mommy and she decided to place you into our family because she loved you and she knew that would be best for you."
hmm...Maybe that answer satisfied him.
"I hate you."
I could almost hear my heart sink into my stomach. But as I turned to look at him, he didn't have hate in his eyes, he had pain. And rejection. And fear. And all those nasty feelings that come along with it. I knew he didn't hate me. He didn't hate anyone. He hated that part of his story. And I did too.
Sometimes it's hard to explain why our kids' bio siblings have different stories. Why did they get to stay and I didn't? Didn't my mother love me? Why didn't she keep me? What is different about me that she didn't like?
I know that no matter what I say, my precious child will let these thoughts float through his mind.
So how do we answer this? Here are my thoughts.
1. Listen. Listen deeply and intently. Really hear what is causing the pain. Don't let the "I hate you's" and the "I wish I was never adopted's" change anything. Listen harder. Sometimes ugly things come out of little mouths when they don't have the words to say what they're really feeling. Do they feel rejected? Do they feel different? Do they feel like their feelings don't matter? Talk to them about it. Give them the right words.
2. Give them God. Tell them about all the ways God has been faithful in your life. Let them know that God is writing an amazing story with their life, too. Jeremiah 29:11 "For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." Our children need to know that, although parts of our lives might be tough, God can take our broken places and make something wonderful.
3. Give them truth. Our kids need to know the truth in their story in age-appropriate ways. Parts of my children's stories will be tough for them. As their mama, I will dole out measures of the truth as they get older until they have their whole story by age 12. Twelve seems so young to me, but I trust the experts on this. I want my kids to be armed with the truth of God, the truth of their story, and the promise that I will walk with them through whatever storms come.
I'm happy to say that we've done a lot of talking about his story since that day. We recently left his birthmother's house and along that same stretch of road, he uttered these words:
"I love you. I'm so glad I'm adopted."
I certainly didn't expect him to say that. And I never want him to feel like he has to be grateful for his story, but I'm SO happy that his heart felt those words. And he felt peace.
*image from flickr
"Gotcha Day" has evolved at our house. It's a day that adoptive families typically celebrate- either the day they became parents to their children or the day they finalized the adoption. In our case (domestic adoption), it's the day we finalized in court.
I always envisioned this day to be a joyful day set aside each year just for our little family. We would go somewhere fun, make special foods, and remember the happiness we felt the day our little guy became ours. What I didn't expect was my son absolutely HATING "Gotcha Day." On his 2nd Gotcha Day, he was 2 1/2 years old, he screamed at me "NO GOTCHA DAY!" I offered balloons, his favorite foods, going out for ice cream, the whole works. He refused. Maybe he just doesn't understand, I thought. Maybe next year will be better.
His 3rd Gotcha Day, I was prepared. I called it "Ford day." I told him about it in my excited voice (the one I reserve for telling the kids good news). This time, it was different. He didn't just scream at me, he gave me 2 good weeks of irrational, angry, unpredictable behavior. The kind where you wonder what kind of demon crawled inside your precious boy and took over.
The 4th time around, I finally got it. This day was for us, it wasn't for him. For him, it was remembrance of a day that he lost his biological family. The day he lost that part of him that he can't quite verbalize yet. As he grew older, he was able to tell me that "Ford day" made him sad. And it broke my heart. Even though we have a great relationship with his birthmother, he still feels it. That part of his gut that misses something he never had. That feeling of separation from someone his heart was once tied to. His little brain has questions and hurt that he can't quite put into words yet. But I get it.
There is no adoption without loss. Even with an open adoption, even with a great counselor, even with the best parents on the planet, there is loss. Each child will deal with it differently, but if we truly want to love our children well, we have to try to understand the parts of their story that led them to our family. Walking that journey with them will help form the unbreakable bond that we strive for. I'd much rather have THAT than a silly Gotcha Day celebration*.
*Please note, I'm not making the point that Gotcha days are bad, this was just part of our journey.