If we focus on adoption love, rather than justifying our actions, we will be able to help children to learn how to have successful family lives.
So when is Love the Enemy?
The first time she told me she loved me, she was five. In fact, the first time she said it, she spoke the words in Russian. It brought a tear to my eye. It made me feel special. Somehow, at that point, I just knew that love would get us through all of the difficulties. I didn’t know at that time how difficult it would be for my daughter to increase her love for me and for my wife. We had no idea that our charming little girl had attachment disorders. We didn’t realize that every brick of love that played a part in building our daughter would come with great efforts and difficulty. And we, as most adoptive parents are, were naïve. We didn’t know that adoption love is complicated.
For my daughter, adoption love was not only complicated, it was playing with fire.
Of course I don’t mean that it was difficult to love the new children who joined our family. It was easy. But love had been complicated for our children from Russia, long before they joined our family. Because of severe neglect and abuse, several of our children had learned that love could be dangerous and their minds had put up barriers to protect them from experiencing the pain of love gone bad. As our daughter who joined us at five moved forward in her love for our family in a strange but ultimate progression of three-steps-forward-two-steps-back, it was very clear that she limited the amount of sincere love that she would allow herself to feel (though strangely, she used the expressions of love as a tool for manipulation to get what she wanted). For my daughter, adoption love was not only complicated, it was playing with fire.
Adoption love was the CPR that kept any form of love alive in our daughter.
As my two daughters aged, the older of the two would become enraged when her little sister had anything positive to say about their first mother. She would launch into a tirade about everything that mother had ever done to hurt them. “She didn’t love us!” she would scream at her little sister. “She always hurt us!” I could relate to the older of the two. I have always found it difficult to forgive and particularly when another’s harmful acts were intentional. It wasn’t that I was supportive of the hate my daughter expressed for her first mother, but I felt like I could understand. I didn’t ever remind my children of the horrible things that had been done in their first family. For the older one, I didn’t need to. She saw the results constantly in the form of massive third-degree burn scars. We soon saw that adoption love was only the beginning of what our daughter needed. Adoption love was the CPR that kept any form of love alive in our daughter. Still, there was so much more that was needed to get love out of “intensive care” and back into a state of good health.
Loving people who had all but ended the lives of my daughters was one of the most difficult things I have ever done. For me, it was the hardest part of adoption love.
Before my wife entered the foster care system at the age of fifteen, she had grown up as the daughter of a notorious stalker. In fact, according to her mother, he was a suspect in murders that were later attributed to Ted Bundy. My wife had walked the trail of learning to forgive someone whom she thought deserved no forgiveness. It was my wife who realized that part of our daughter learning to love again would require a reduction in hate. She started by helping our daughter to understand the desperate circumstances that her first mother had experienced. Little by little, progress came. I felt we had reached a milestone on the day my daughter approached me and said: “Dad, sometimes I miss Mama Oksana. I used to hate her. Is that OK?” Tears left my eyes as I replied. “Yes, baby. It’s OK. It’s good. I’m sorry that it’s so hard.” It was at that point that I learned that I couldn’t help my child to be successful in life and family by teaching her to love less. As strong as my feelings were about the horrible things that happened to my daughters, I needed to help them to love, and I could only do that by example; by learning, myself, to love those who had hurt my daughters. Loving people who had all but ended the lives of my daughters was one of the most difficult things I have ever done. For me, it was the hardest part of adoption love.
I have seen that our success in these blended families will be based, to a large extent, on how successful we are in adoption love.
Adoption affects each person who is adopted differently. Each adoptive parent is unique and has their own experience and perspective on that family building method. Each family that participates in adoption is singular and needs to find their own way to stitch together the parts of a patchwork quilt. But I have seen that our success in these blended families will be based, to a large extent, on how successful we are in adoption love.
I believe if we focus on adoption love, rather than justifying our actions or trying to prove who the bad guys are, that we will be able to help children to learn how to have successful family lives.
There are those who have been angry in their disagreement with me as I have supported a need for understanding and recognition of first families and first parents. I have taken hits from the other side for having the audacity to believe that children are better off with new families when their first parents do not readily do what is required to keep their children safe. Neither side is happy that I refuse to decide which parents get to use the term “real.” I don’t spend much time considering the rights of first parents. I don’t spend any more time worrying about the rights of adoptive parents. Mostly I worry about parents’ (first, in-between, and adoptive) responsibilities. It’s a strange concept, but if we, as parents, all took care of our responsibilities, then we wouldn’t need to worry about the rights of the children. I believe if we focus on adoption love, rather than justifying our actions or trying to prove who the bad guys are, that we will be able to help children to learn how to have successful family lives.
I don’t know when it is best to have first parents involved in a relationship with their biological children who have been adopted. I don’t know how much contact should exist in any given case. Those are details to complex situations. But I would suggest that love is never the enemy and that we cannot help children to heal, to move on, and to build healthy relationships, by teaching them to forget where they came from and that they should love less, rather than more.
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