By Judy M. Miller
I love all of my kids-born to me and adopted by me-the same, with consistent limitlessness. Then again, if I’m honest that’s not totally true. I love my adopted kids “more,” because more is required.
My adopted kids arrived with invisible overflowing suitcases of tough stuff, issues inherent to adoption, spilling over into their and our daily lives. These issues stemmed from the losses of family, family history, and culture of origin.
I was confident in my ability to parent my kids, and I believed I had the basics down. But, I discovered that a number of my thoughts about parenting adopted kids would eventually be proven partially or altogether untrue, such as:
- I never thought I would need to hold my child for hours while she sobbed her way into and around her birthdays, missing her birth mother. My experience was that birthdays were celebratory; she showed me they could be laced with pain.
What I know is love alone cannot negate any trauma my kids have experienced. However, honest dialogue, unending patience, and the gifts of time and perspective help immensely.
- I thought loving my kids would be enough to get them through the rough patches of sibling squabbles, being bullied, mean girls, identity development, personal compass navigation, and adoption loss and grief.
What I know is loving my kids is the easy part. Staying ahead of them in their psycho-social stages is the challenging job.
- I thought I would parent, more or less, independently or collaboratively with my husband, with occasional advice from more experienced parents.
What I know is I needed to compile a team of therapists and support people who would help me hone my emotion coaching and parenting skills. These professionals and support people would educate me about how to better address the traumas my children experienced from not having their most basic needs met.
What I also know is that I have come to appreciate the wise advice of my kids, at first wholly unsolicited but genuine, and later upon request. Their insights have been profound and honest, a good check to gauge my effectiveness.
- I thought differences would not matter. I was oh-so-wrong. I was colorblind, entrenched in my white privilege.
What I know is differences matter greatly. We perceive our lives through these lenses of difference. To disregard our differences would be the same as turning our backs on who each of us is, who we are as a family unit, and how each of us contributes to and supports each other and our remarkable family.
- I thought I would be able to weave my adopted kids into my family history and stories. I was partially correct here.
What I know is that as my kids have become older, they have put the brakes on being integrated too deeply into the family. They accept those they know or have known personally as their bonafide family.
When I share with my daughter, “You are named for your great, great grandmother.”
She responds, “Dad’s great grandmother?”
I nod and think, “That would be a ‘yes,’ my child. Thank you for correcting me; we do not know the name of your great, great Chinese grandmother. I realize I have misstepped. I have muddled your identity formation.”
- I thought I could sit back and watch each child emerge. I found out otherwise when I said, “You’re just like…” or “You remind me of …” when speaking to my birthed son.
What I know is that comparisons of this nature do not belong in a family such as ours; comparisons of this nature are reminders of my kids’ adoptive statuses.
- I thought I would teach my children. And I do. Things like stranger-danger; wrong, right, and shades of gray; peer-predatory behavior; how to be a good friend; and think before you speak or act.
What I know is my kids have taught me far more-how to appreciate the small things, the soothing balm of a good belly laugh or a long puppy-hug, the importance of being in the moment, the beauty of grace, how to soften the messages a parent must impart with the purpose of safety, and the significance of our blended family.
I thought I knew a lot about parenting, but what I have realized is that I am challenged every day to grow, to examine how I raise my kids and who I am as their parent. Although I know more with each passing day, and definitely book-loads-and-countless-conversations more than 22 years ago, I am still a novice.
Judy M. Miller works with pre- and adoptive parents, equipping them with new techniques and information, and encouraging and empowering adoptive families through difficult times. She is the author of the internationally know parent guide, “What To Expect From Your Adopted Tween”.