Adoption is not a one blog topic, as my readers have learned, and since it often begins with an infertility story, it takes a while to do even minimal justice to it. This particular entry is yet another piece of the puzzle, and is one that a lot of young parents get nervous about: the period when your child begins to ask more and more probing questions about their origin. Don’t be afraid, and I don’t say this because nothing scary ever comes of these queries. Rather I say this because as all parents of teenagers know, you cannot protect your kids from all potential hurt, and the sooner we admit this, (notice I am still included in the learning curve even though my kids are now grown), the happier we shall all be. In these matters, I find it is always best to take the long view, which includes the belief that God is good, that He is in control, and most of all, that He loves your child more than you do.
As kids get older, it is only natural that their questions about their origins are the type that cannot be answered easily. For example, some of these kids are taught that sexual relationships are to be enjoyed only in the confines of marriage, and as they start to understand how they came about, there is an internal dissonance between what they are being taught as good character, and how they came to be. It is difficult at times to give assent to their parents’ set of morals, while at the same time hold the ever important picture of their birth parents as good people. However since this questioning time usually comes about in the middle school years, it can be used to begin to open the door to some pretty good theology, namely, that all of us are fallen creatures, and even though we may be trying to honor God with our lives, we fall short. And we don’t judge our fellow human beings for falling short, unless we of course are perfect. This can be tricky as your pre-adolescent child begins to leave the safety of clear-cut good guys and bad guys, and instead begins to navigate the uncharted water of realizing that all humans do things that dishonor God. This realization however is not limited to adopted kids, and is an important developmental step in the life of believing people of any age.
When my kids tried to figure out all the whys and wherefores of their adoption, a funny thing happened, a real life Show and Tell if you will. Close friends of ours decided to have a young pregnant girl come and live with them. She had decided to give her child up for adoption, and her parents felt it was better for her to be in a different city while awaiting the birth of her child. This brave young woman was a frequent guest in our home, and as she and I became friends, we realized that there was a mutual benefit for us. Since her baby was not coming to our family, we could talk pretty freely about all aspects of adoption. She told me it gave her great comfort to see our (adopted) kids thrive in our family and have, in her estimation, a good life. I told her it made me feel good to bestow any kindness I could upon her as a way to support her in this very difficult decision. We shared a lot of afternoons chatting, laughing, crying, praying, or just watching a movie, and enjoying each other’s company.
What I did not realize however, was how very painful her presence was to our kids, especially our younger two. It was not that they did not like her; but once again, I forgot to factor in their unique perspective, and had made assumptions based upon my own feelings. Some readers may be shaking their heads at my lack of insight back then, but I was still unversed in the painful part of adoption from the adopted kids’ perspective. I was naive, and egocentric, but not malicious. But of course now it all makes sense.
For my kids it was so painful to see a pregnant single mom and know that she was about to separate from this child, and that he or she would not know or be known by their physical mother. As I recall, their emotions ranged from how can she do that, to I hope the kid gets a good family. Their almost visceral reaction seemed to take them by surprise as well, and honestly, how could they anticipate the flood of emotions as they watched a scene played out before them that mirrored one from their own histories, but one that they were not privy to? I gained a new sensibility about their feelings, and this became part of our adoption narrative: landing in a happy family does not mean that there are not painful feelings of longing or regret. Our kids would later move on from these middle/high school years and become independent adults, and we would be able to talk some more about adoption. I would learn to be patient and understanding and even open to all their feelings of sorrow, even as they still assured me that they loved me and they were glad I was their mom. I would learn to leave room for the tiny albeit real piece of regret that, like a pebble in one’s shoe, can be a constant source of pain, even if the rest of the journey is relatively sunny. And I would know that their protective love for Joe & I would preclude them ever sharing the totality of their feelings with us. In that aspect, we were outsiders, and I grew to accept that.
I would pray that all of us, parents, kids, and birth mothers could make peace with the life that God has chosen for us. Part of the peace-making would involve their contacting their birth mothers, which as you might have guessed, will have to wait till next time.