Fielding Questions About WHY

Today’s adoption question is from Sarah: How do you handle questions your kids have about WHY?

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We had a really good plan for this. It fell apart immediately upon impact with reality, but I’ll tell you about it anyway.

OUR PLAN was to focus on the positives. Not in a Pollyanna-ish way, but to look for the bright spots in our particular situation and intentionally point to them.

We had some good stuff to work with:

Their biological mother did something awesome when she signed over her parental rights once we were identified as a pre-adoptive family. She saved them from YEARS of legal limbo – trial dates are pushed out months in these matters, continuances granted endlessly, and then appeals can drag on. So she really came through and put the best interest of her kids first in that decision, and we’ve made it clear to the Cherubs that we are grateful for this.

(Let me pause to say that I’m not a fan of the phrase “biological mom.” She’s their Mom, just like I am now, and it helps our family that I’m not threatened or upset about it. Back when one of the kids asked, after the adoption was finalized, “What should we call her now?” I just blurted, “Don’t you still want to call her Mom?” Every adoption situation is different, but in our case, it would be beyond weird for them to start calling her “Lisa” (not her name, but you see where I’m going) after calling her Mom since they were born. For a while, they referred to me as their Round Two Mom, which was kind of funny. I wish that had stuck, because it captures the truth really well. Our roles in their lives are different, but denying reality seems absurd in our case.)

Other bright spots include how they were placed together in foster care (a miracle) in an incredible foster home (another miracle) with a foster mother who knew how to parent with love, how to lead, and how to teach life skills (sadly rare).

And that they were CHOSEN. We hoped that would make them feel special, and that they’d marvel along with us at how God brought the four of us together to make a family.

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Here’s the reality:

They did not feel lucky.

They did not feel particularly blessed.

They could not possibly care less about being CHOSEN.

Their response to all this was, “If you got to consider all those kids, why didn’t we have any choice about our new parents?”

Ouch.

But such a valid point. This is probably their top frustration – that they were not consulted. The will of strangers was just imposed on them, again and again. And so whenever this topic comes up, they say some version of, “I’m not saying we wouldn’t pick you guys as parents, but it would have been nice to consider other options.”

At first, struggling to respond, I’d talk about facts: how there aren’t enough adoptive parents, and how what you think you want in a parent when you’re a kid may not be what you actually need, blah, blah, blah. But this was unhelpful. They weren’t frustrated by the larger picture of foster care in Massachusetts. They were frustrated by how completely they’d been excluded from decisions that have endless repercussions for their lives.

Here’s something to know about adoptive parenting: You constantly need to put your feelings, and the way your Sparkly Hopeful Generous Love is bruised by these interactions, ON HOLD, so you can recognize the ridiculousness of what you are requiring of these children. These kids were

  • Taken from the only family they’d ever known (losing their school, friends, and most of their belongings)
  • To live with a foster family they’d never met (where they were expected to accept whatever they got, may not have had what they needed, AND had to learn new household rules, traditions, expectations, as well as make their way in a new school.)
  • Then later, seemingly out of the blue, told,”We’ve found your new parents!”and introduced to yet another set of people they’d never met, then required to start all over AGAIN.

Our society expects these kids to do this cheerfully, with a good attitude, while keeping up their behavior and grades in school and not acting out in any way. It is insane.

And yet they pull it off.

If you get a chance to look through the photo listing book of children waiting for adoption, or the MARE website? Look at every one of those faces and recognize: right there is a child without functional parents or a real home, who could be moved to a new stranger’s house without notice at any time, and yet will be expected to pass a test on fractions this morning and to figure out what to do about the mandatory chorus concert tonight, the one that requires a white shirt and black pants he doesn’t have.

These kids are AMAZING, functioning in lives where every facet is outside their control. So if our Cherubs get angry or attitudinal about not having a choice about us as their parents, my job is to agree that that sucks and not take it personally.

I guess that’s our strategy for dealing with questions of WHY: Agree that what happened sucks, resist the urge to cover their disappointment with a shiny veneer, and don’t take ANYTHING personally.

Here’s what’s surprising: As we give them freedom to vent their frustration about all of this, we see this sort of two-tier development happening: they recognize how much they hated the process…and that they love us. They wish they’d never had to go into foster care or be adopted…and also see this new life is pretty good.  They learn to live in tension, which might be the life skill we all need most.

This is why I recommend taking a lot of pictures. As you look back over them, you’ll see: Yeah, they were just sort of tolerating us then. But things feel different now. We’re doing better… It draws you out of the daily stuff and helps you see the progress.

 

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Two weeks after we met: Steve & I were SO EXCITED. The kids were like, “Whatever strange people. Please take us back to our foster home where our real lives are.”

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This past Christmas: We were ALL pretty excited…and smiling for real.

The truth is, none of us know why. But there’s a proverb that says, “Don’t withhold good from those who deserve it when it’s in your power to help.” That’s what we’re trying to do here, one day at a time.

Thanks, Sarah. Great question :)