Posted by Lisa Mason on 28th March 2021
After four years of praying and waiting, we are delighted that Sam, Emily and Mia will be welcoming a baby boy into their family over the next few weeks and bringing him home for good at the start of April.
Having another adoptive family in our church is incredibly exciting, we get to see the heart of God for us demonstrated as they give themselves to loving and caring for their new son and baby brother. We also have the privilege of seeing God’s purposes to bring goodness and hope being fulfilled through their lives and through our church family as we support and care for them.
Perhaps you are wondering how you can best support this wonderful family through this time. Here are some thoughts from myself (as an adoptive parent) about the unique nature of adoptive parenting. We hope this will help you as you pray and care for these guys for the weeks and years to come.
During the first week of transition, when our adopted son was being eased into life in our family, there came a day when we took all of our children out together for the first time without our son’s foster carers. All four children ran headlong away from us towards the first thing they set their eyes upon that caught their interest and I noticed a sensation that I had never acknowledged before. In that moment, I felt a deep safety that my biological children would not venture far from me and would turn back the instant they needed me. It felt as if an invisible piece of string was extending between us. But my adopted son did not have this string, I had no idea if he would even remember who he had arrived with or ever come looking for me if he needed help. This story illustrates the first and biggest upheaval of adoptive parenting that makes it substantially different from parenting biological children. In adoption, you are seeking to create that invisible string, to teach your child to depend on you for all of their needs, from the most basic to the more complex. In biological parenting you are gradually trying to test and stretch and lengthen that string, to give your children greater independence and teach them to function successfully without you.
If you have carried and birthed a biological child, even before they were born you will have built up millions of memories and moments where you have nourished, soothed and calmed them simply by being attuned to their movements and moods. Even if there have been difficulties and challenges through pregnancy, that baby will still feel safer with you than with anyone else in their world.
From the moment we are introduced to an adoptive child, they are instructed to call us mummy or daddy, but never has a title felt so poorly earned. We will have spent hours in meetings and training events, trying to learn to be good enough adoptive parents but our new child will have more positive associations with nearly every other adult they have met than they do with us.
As adoptive parents we carry grief for all the moments, days, weeks and months with our child that we have missed, the milestones that we have to look up in a book when we talk to our parenting friends, the memories that arrive as photos of them looking very happy in somebody else’s home. We then have to try to learn the signals and cues of a little person who has attuned themselves to a different adult, home and routine.
The phrase ‘they are so lucky to have you’ is like an arrow into all of this grief and pain. The sad story of our child’s life that we are trying to get our own heads around, then curate and share with them in an age-appropriate way is a constant presence in our minds. Most of the time this situation feels anything but lucky. If you want to encourage our friends, avoid these kinds of phrases and instead let them know that you are praying for them, give them words of encouragement and support, bearing in mind that adoption is not the fairy tale ending to their child’s story.
Here are some other simple examples of how being mindful of the story of adoption might be helpful when you are trying to think what to say or how to respond to our friends.
If you are passing in the street or bringing round food for a meal rota, please say a quick hi but don’t stop – the adopted child needs to be closely surrounded by their family for the first few months and slowly introduced to new faces as they settle and feel safe. It’s better to call on the phone for a catch up instead, let your friends know that you would love to see them but let them decide when their child is ready to meet new people.
Once we’re out and about and meeting together again, please be mindful that adopted children are really good at putting on a brave happy face, it is a survival mechanism that has successfully kept them alive. When you see them around other people, especially at a church gathering that is busy and noisy, they are likely to appear smiley and confident. Avoid telling the adoptive parent how happy their child looks, they probably already have to hear that phrase a lot and it may jar with their reality. The adoptive parent will probably be slightly ignoring you and watching their child like a hawk, unable to relax if their child is out of sight. Please don’t feel offended by this. You could try watching their child with them and ask them to point out any little clues that they might be looking for that their child is feeling overwhelmed.
Adopted children will often hold hands with other adults and pull out all the charms for grown-ups who are not their parents. This is because they are not entirely certain who will be taking them home at the end of the day, so they are working hard to get everyone on their side. Please try to redirect their affection back to their parents and affirm that relationship – they are not ready to build attachment with anyone else just yet. The adoptive parents should be the ones to decide when they are.
Please don’t ask for details about the adopted child’s earlier life. Assume that this is a really hard and difficult story that your friends are carrying because otherwise their child would not be living with them. But they need to hold and guard this story for their child, it’s hard to do that when friends are curious because it’s a weight they would probably love to share, please don’t tempt them to do that, trust that they will share what is appropriate and safe if necessary. Please be careful when using the names of this family in a public setting – please think about the comments you make on Sam and Emily’s Facebook pages. Don’t ever put photos of their child online.
For adoptive parents, the same things will be hard for a really long time (often many years). If your friend poured their heart out to you last week because they were really struggling, the same things are still likely to be hard the next time you meet but they might not want to bore you with the same details all over again. Just assume whenever you talk that they are working really hard to know and care for their child, give them the encouragement and affirmation they need to keep going or the space to voice their fears and regrets. Don’t worry that you need to be able to explain their child to them or help them with their parenting, they will have professionals in their life to help with this – just be their friend, a safe person to talk to and pray with.
Thank you so much for reading this and for your love, prayers and support for this family. Although we have spoken more here about the challenges of adoption, the joys are deep and rewarding. We know that God has such good plans for each member of this family and will be glorified in all of the joys and challenges that they face together in him.
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