It has been said that love is the answer no matter the question. Right or wrong, I can tell you this: In our family, adopted children feel secure loving more, not less.
My four daughters are biological sisters that came from four different orphanages in Russia. My youngest son came from yet another orphanage in the region. Both of my son’s parents had chosen to end their lives; first his father, and then his mother. She finished shattering the family by dropping her baby off at the orphanage before returning home to switch off her life. We learned that my daughters’ first mother had died several years after they left Russia, when she was about thirty-four. Such tragic histories should lead us to an obvious conclusion. Hate, apathy and negligence do not breed security in homes and families. We can do severe damage if we don’t accept that adopted children feel secure loving more, not less.
Loving more than one set of parents helps our children. Choosing sides or playing favorites hurts them. Adopted children feel secure loving more, not less.
With the Memorial Day weekend, we took some time with my children at several cemeteries sharing stories about their new family history while placing flowers on graves. My son, Denney, could really relate to two of the headstones. I have two cousins that made the same decision that his parents did. We also talked about my younger brother while placing flowers on his grave. He died as the result of a work accident when he and those he worked with perpetually violated safety regulations. We talked about choices. When we make bad ones long enough, eventually, things happen that we can’t undo. We spoke of obligations that we have to never intentionally do things that could leave our family members feeling as sad as we felt during the moments that we spent around three different graves that were the result of tragic choices that crushed families and dimmed homes.
Of course my children heard fun stories about their dad. I told them about when I was a little boy with grandmas, grandpas, aunts, uncles and siblings while we decorated other graves. They felt happy to be a part of a large family with lots of recorded history. But they were all sad because of the failures of their own first families. My children struggle with feelings of where they should show their loyalty. Should it go to first parents or current parents? In parenting our adopted children, my wife and I had tried to teach them to show loyalty in both places, whenever possible. Loving more than one set of parents helps our children. Choosing sides or playing favorites hurts them. Adopted children feel secure loving more, not less.
In our family, we have always tried to teach our children that if you can’t help the person you want to, you can still help someone else in their place. With that thought in mind, as we finished up at the last cemetery on Sunday afternoon, my wife gave my daughters a flower and asked them to find the grave of a mother that hadn’t been decorated. They would use the proxy grave to place a flower and say something good about their first mother. It has taken years for my daughters to learn empathy for a mother who brutally abused them. Adopted children feel secure loving more, not less, but that doesn’t mean it comes easy. As my daughters gathered around a headstone with their new mother, they all managed to find something good to say about their first mother, home and family.
Until we learn to accept that adopted children feel secure loving more, not less, our children will feel less secure in their current homes and families.
When my wife did the same thing with my son, his thoughts were very revealing. First he placed two flowers on the headstone belonging to a couple. Then he knelt down. After several moments of silence, Denney’s new mother prompted him, telling him he could say anything that he would say to his first parents, if they were there. I was surprised when that very intelligent son began speaking in the present tense rather than the past. And he didn’t speak of wishes, he spoke of hope; hope unfulfilled. “I hope that you can make good choices so our family can stay together. I hope that our family doesn’t have to break and that you don’t have to die.” Denney spoke the words he wished he could have spoken when he was less than a year old; before he could even comprehend the magnitude of the choices that were being made around him. It became very clear to my wife and me that our adopted children feel secure loving more, not less.
When he finished, we all gathered and talked about it being alright to have contradictory feelings about families and adoption. We talked about love of family; and not just our family.
As adoptive parents, we sometimes feel threatened by our children’s inclusion in—or feelings for—a family that is not our family. Even so, the fact that our children belonged to a family before joining ours is indisputable and it is something we signed up for when we chose to bring these children into our homes and families.
It’s hard. But it is much more difficult for our children. We need to respect that. In fact, if our homes and families are going to be everything we want them to be, we need to embrace our children’s desire to know where “all of them” fits. And different parts really do fit in different places.
I have made plenty of mistakes in parenting. I frequently find myself needing to apologize and to ask forgiveness from my children. However, there is one principle I am confident is always correct. Teaching our children to love less is never the answer. If we teach our children not to love, or to reduce their love for family, we cannot be surprised when we succeed; and reap the whirlwind. Adopted children feel secure loving more, not less.
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