I often get messages from concerned parents who want to know if they are a bad mom or dad. Because of the type of writing I do, most of these queries come from adoptive parents that have not yet accepted the fact that successful adoptions take time. Rarely are the parents looking for validation from me or their child. They are genuinely concerned about their own feelings and those of their children. They almost always want to know if those feelings are “normal.”
The engineer in me wants to tell you that; “68% of all data values fall within one standard deviation of the mean and 95% of all data values fall within two standard deviations of the mean.” That’s just nerd-talk for “almost everything is normal.” I think as parents we often spend too much time trying to figure out if we are “normal” and not enough time focusing on success. You being normal or abnormal will not change the fact that successful adoptions take time.
Amy and I had three biological sons before we adopted our first child. I immediately noticed that something was different when I met my first adopted son, a one-month-old little boy who has Down syndrome. While love was there, it was different. It was lacking a certain euphoric quality that I felt when I met my other sons in the delivery room. That feeling eventually came, but it took time. For years I thought it was the difference between adopting and adding to a family biologically. I, too, needed to learn that successful adoptions take time.
If love and bonding can vary with biological children, why should we be surprised to hear that successful adoptions take time?
When we adopted Sarah, the five-year old little girl from a Russian orphanage melted my heart and I had the exact same experience I lived when I met my first three sons. Adoption was not the difference in feeling between children who joined our family. Love and attachment were just two of the factors that would contribute to our goals. Sarah came with other challenges that would provide proof for the theory that successful adoptions take time.
Eventually I learned that biological parents often went through the same varying degrees of feelings with different children. Initial bonding could vary regardless of how children joined a family. So, if love and bonding can vary with biological children, why should we be surprised to hear that successful adoptions take time?
I struggle with the word “normal” almost as much as the word “real” bothers me. Both are used to make us feel more comfortable, regardless of reality. The reality is that challenges are “normal.” These variations from normal; what we measure as incredibly good, or incredibly bad, are what keep our lives unique, interesting and free from monotony. Guess what… We don’t get all of the incredibly good without some incredibly bad experiences. Some people struggle with debilitating health issues while others set world records in sporting events. Some families stick together and never falter while others struggle to keep civility in the home. All of these events in our lives combine, weighing in on both sides of the scale until, well… 99.7% of all data values in the system fall within three standard deviations our lives are almost always “normal.”
You can’t fix all of the problems right now. You can’t overcome all of the challenges this week. Successful adoptions take time.
Let’s forget about “normal” for just a minute. Rather than asking yourself if your negative feelings are normal, ask yourself how you can best help your child. If you have simply “had it,” and can’t think of a thing you are willing to do because everything is so one-sided, you can best help your child by taking a break. You need some time doing whatever it is that recharges your batteries. If you neglect yourself and other members of your family too much, you will have that stress to add to the load you are already carrying and if I have just described your life, you are trying to carry too much.
Stop trying to make a relationship “all or nothing.” In families where adoption of troubled children plays a part, it can never be all or nothing. Some of these children are wells that can’t be filled. But that doesn’t mean we are relieved of our responsibility to continue to help them. Our children need us to help them for a long time more than they need extra help right now. Though successful adoptions take time, that is something we don’t lack. Here’s a rule to live by: When all you can do isn’t enough, you still need to do all you can do.
So… do everything you can do while still taking care of your other responsibilities, including those you have to yourself. You can’t fix all of the problems right now. You can’t overcome all of the challenges this week. Successful adoptions take time. Remember the old cliché; “He who fights and runs away, lives to fight another day.” Run away for a few days and let your mind rest so it will be ready to go back with renewed vigor. Even soldiers get leave.
When you come back, measure the situation a little differently. Re-visit your goals and adjust them to something that can be achieved rather than what you think “normal” should be. Don’t hold yourself or your children up against anyone else and just realize that successful adoptions take time.
Often, readers receive as much help from other readers in the comments section as they do from the blog article, itself. Please be generous with your thoughts and experiences in the comments section. There are lots of people who need what you have to share. This is your chance to help them.
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