To adopt a child seems difficult and once you have gone through the legalities of adoption you discover that having this addition to your family has challenges. It is important to understand that every change in life comes with challenges and not to assume that your adopted child will fit effortlessly into your household or that you will all live happy ever after without any hitches along the way! It is also important to not expect that every one of your children will be clones of you because of the way you raise them, and that includes an adopted child.
Children are trained by their parents to become adults that will fill their own unique place in society. Both non-biological and biological parents have the same challenge and that is to raise a child that will be mature and successful, a child that will not become a liability to society but rather one that will be well rounded, able to cope with life and be an asset in society.
Every successful change requires planning of some kind, setting of boundaries and a lot of giving and receiving. Happy families have to follow a set of rules – these rules are not necessarily found in a book but are in the habits and ways of the family.
Life happens without any warning, as it did in our case.
The death of our daughter was one of those things that we were not prepared for. Jackie’s sudden death left us devastated and filled with a lot of “what-ifs” and regrets. We also found that we were left with a gaping hole in our lives – an empty bed, clothes in the wardrobe, toys in the toy box, school clothes, text books and much more! Most of all we had Charlene, our two and a half year old who had lost her sister, friend and spokesperson. The emptiness that hit our home because of the death of this one 7 year old child was huge!
Within a year we knew that we needed another child in the house, someone that could fill the emptiness and replace the loss. A friend suggested that we visit a child care society and see if we could become foster parents. I went to two agencies and discovered that adoption is far more complicated than I had thought because it is simply not possible to replace the emptiness and loss or to help relieve the pain by fostering or adopting a child.
We had to change how we saw foster care and possible adoption.
Don’t Adopt to Replace.
One child cannot replace another child.
Every person is unique and must be treated as such.
Boundaries create a sense of safety.
We were absolutely blessed when one agency contacted us and said that there was an 18 month old little girl that we could possibly foster on a long term basis. When the day came that I could fetch Heather from the place of safety, I felt as if I was on my way to the hospital to give birth. Heather’s blue eyes and curly hair and her little body, so unsure of what was going to happen, melted my heart and I could not wait to show her to the world! That day changed my life. I understood that Heather will never be Jackie and that I would love her for who she is.
Once we understood this principle our life with our adopted child started. We soon learned some more truths. We learned quickly that she had a different personality type to Jackie. Jackie was outgoing and expressive whilst Heather was more demanding. We could easily have said that she ‘takes after’ her biological family, but somehow we never did! We never referred to her as our adopted child. We also never referred to her background or blamed her background for her behaviour patterns, because we recognised that she owned a special and unique character as much as we each did.
We allowed her to be herself but at the same time expected her to follow the house rules and boundaries which applied to both children. It did not always come easy for her, but it was also not always easy for our older daughter, so, why should it be different for Heather? No one likes to follow rules and no one find set boundaries comfortable, but boundaries and rules, if consistent, balanced and fair will compliment any household, and will definitely help grow future leaders.
Don’t Keep Secrets
Secrets become lies
Secrets build walls
Secrets cause hurt
We realised from the start that we had to help Heather understand that she was adopted into our family and that in spite of us loving her, she had roots in another family. Just the thought of having this kind of open talk and possibly losing her was daunting.
The challenge came in the way we spoke and how we explained the general life situations to her. Something like how to explain ‘adoption’ to a little child without causing confusion, rejection and fear was more complex than we could imagine. We could not think of her in any way other than that she was the biggest gift that anyone could have received. The gift idea made an impression on me, because I remember the day that Heather’s biological mom and I had the conversation about her signing Heather off to us to adopt her. I know it did not come easy for her but at the same time she gave me the biggest and best gift anyone could ever give me. The enormity of this thought caused me to call Heather my gift! She loved hearing that she was my gift and took to that because receiving gifts was important to her and easy to understand. It was great to hear her sharing her story of how she was all wrapped up as a gift, bow and all, and handed to us. The idea became a reality to us and our extended families.
But then she grew older and the gift idea, though sweet, was not sufficient anymore. Her understanding changed and her questions became more direct.
The Truth is Powerful
Answer a question with the truth
Do not avoid the moment, you may never get the same opportunity again
Don’t add to the truth
I remember this incident so clearly, we were looking at the photographs in the hallway when she looked at me and asked “Where am I?” I looked at this little three year old next to me and I realised that she is clever and smart. Her blue eyes were full of curious cuteness and my thoughts raced and I said “You are not in this photograph because you were not with us then, but you came shortly after this photograph was taken”.
Her next question almost took my breath away! My thoughts were: “How is it possible that a little 3 year old can be so sharp”? “So where was I then” was her next question. I knew then that this was a moment that I must not waste because if I tell a lie to cover up, it could cause hurt, if I say more because I want to protect myself from the truth, it will cause her in later years not to trust me again. She put me in checkmate! Would the truth hurt her and cause her to feel rejected and fearful? Or would the truth help her to continue with confidence in our family?
I also realised that at three years old she needed clarity but that this clarity could either advance or confuse her.
Check Your Motive
It was the moment that I could say the most important thing and make it sound unimportant, or worst still I could ignore the question!
It was cooldrink and lap time. I knew it was easy to give the full story as I received and perceived it, but, I had no right to bring pain into the truth which could make me look better.
After explaining that she was given to me by another mommy, she looked at me and said: “So where is my other mommy?” Again I felt my heart racing. I remember kissing her chubby cheek as I said: “She is struggling with life and because she loved you more than herself she decided to rather let you stay with us”. I breathed a sigh of relief when she said “I love you, Mommy”, sipped her cooldrink, gave me a wet kiss and jumped from my lap to go and play. I saw the results from sharing the truth in love.
I know now that we had no rule book but that we are blessed with the results in our home. We have two beautiful daughters, both doing exceptionally well in their careers and each have two children of their own.
So if the question is if there are rules to adoption and bringing up children, then my simple answer would have to be that being truthful, having respect for each other and always trying to be fair with the boundaries that are set, will produce wonderfully balanced adults.