I (Dr. Brooks) was at lunch with my daughters a few weeks ago. The waitress walked up to me and began to make what she assumed to be polite conversation.
“Are these your daughters?”
“Did you adopt them?”
“Are they sisters?”
“Oh, that is such a kind thing you are doing! Do you have any children of your own?”
“So you adopted because you couldn’t have children of your own?” (As she looks at me with pity.)
Believe it or not, this is a true conversation. I normally get one or two of these questions from people, but never had I gotten all of these questions at one time in this way. My natural instinct was to protect my daughters’ hearts. At about the second question I wanted to begin covering my daughters’ ears. I also became incredibly angry, defensive, and short in my responses. One might say that I became rude. Why did I react this way when the questions asked were not meant to be intentionally hurtful (even if they were a bit nosey)?
I have spoken with many adoptive parents who have said they have had similar conversations. Each time these parents relate their conversations they have told me they have to hold back the frustration and anger. Why did we react this way? My children know they are adopted. It is actually very obvious since their skin color is not the same as my husbands and mine. We talk about adoption all the time with them. The tone of the questions being asked and the insinuations being made were ones that were confusing and untrue. The answer: I perceive the messages being sent to my daughters were negative and hurtful.
I believe, on some level, we as adoptive parents fear our children questioning the reason for their adoption and ultimately our love for them. We fear they will question their identity and maybe even reject us. Our underlying fear causes us to respond to the looks, questions, and comments with defensiveness and anger. Is it possible that the reaction (fear masked by anger) to these questions is more my problem than it is my daughters?
Talking to you as an adoptive mom, I know this fear very well and I fight with it daily. Speaking to you as a counselor I want to normalize a few things and maybe relieve a few fears. The reality is that because all teenagers and young adults go through a time of identity crisis, your child will go through a time of questioning his or her identity. When a child is adopted, this aspect of self will have to be filtered into this identity crisis. It doesn’t matter how much or how little information is had by the child about the birth family because there will still be unanswered questions. These unanswered questions as well as the messages they receive from the outside world will be weighed with the messages you as a parent have given your child and the beliefs they hold about who God is and His love for them.
It is true that we will not be able to protect the hearts of our children from all the hurtful and untrue messages sent to them by the outside world. We don’t want to place them in a protective bubble that suffocates their ability to grow and mature into healthy adults. We do want them to ask the tough questions so that they will be confident in the answers. We want them to get their answers from us and from scripture.
So, how can we as adoptive parents protect the hearts of our children? We can make sure we are doing everything we can to have a heart connection with them. This heart connection starts as soon as we meet our child. The younger the child is when s/he comes into our home the easier it is to create these connections. This does not mean that the heart connections are impossible to make when a child is older. They are just a little harder to navigate. We must remember what is truth, with God all things are possible. We want our children to come to us when they have questions about something that was said that causes them to question their identity and beliefs. We want to create an atmosphere within our relationship that says, “I want to hear you even if what you have to say is potentially hurtful to me.”
What do we do with our very real fears? We very simply recognize:
1) Our emotions are real and it is okay to feel them.
2) God understands what it means to be an adoptive parent and He wants us to come to Him with our joys and our fears.
3) He commanded: Do not be anxious about anything, but with prayer and petition with thanksgiving make your requests known to God. And the peace that passes all understanding will guard your heart and your mind in Christ Jesus. (Phil 4:6-7)
God loves our children more than we do. He wants the best for them. He placed them in our homes for a reason. We are a part of the plan He has for their lives (Jer 29:11). Our job is to love our children as He has called us to love them for the glory of God. We are to pass on the commands of the Lord as we sit at home and when we walk along the road, when we lie down and when we get up (Deut 6:4-7). The rest we leave to Him.