Tonight we encountered our first true ‘aftermath’ experience of adoption. It was one long, yet short week ago that we pledged under oath to permanently and unconditionally care for Devin and Trevor. Jonathon and I felt the relief that came with such permanency, but we anticipated that to be short-lived. And I so hated that we were right.
Tonight, our boys asked questions we have not discussed in many months. We had conversations and heard thoughts that they have not voiced since we lived at Thornwell. And we witnessed so much regression.
“Why did our parents hate us?” “Why did you take us away from our real family?” “Why did we even have to come here?” “Why did you let this happen?” “When will we ever see our real mom and dad again?”
It depresses me to say, but the ‘after’ picture of adoption looks eerily similar to the ‘before’. The difference is that now when our kids yell at us “You are NOT my mom and dad”, we can yell back that we are. That makes no difference to them. It hurts my soul to see their lack of understanding. It’s not a lack of understanding out of hate or of a difficulty comprehending, but actually the opposite. My boys know exactly what has happened. They know exactly what was wrong, and they love their birth parents anyway. They forget the facts because they are wounded deep into their core. They feel the pain of that rejection with every breath. So then follows the hate and the anger and the desperation to push everyone away and cause others to feel just a small fraction of their pain.
I was listening to a podcast about raising foster and adoptive kids, and the speaker said that someone who has been abused is being told over and over again that they aren’t worth anything. So, it is essential in their healing process to recognize that they do, in fact, have worth. It is different all the more with the trauma of neglect. Neglect, at first, was thought to not be trauma at all. “A child who has been neglected? They don’t have nearly the problems that an abused child has.” WRONG. That is a big, fat wrong. What I learned through that teaching is that a child who has been neglected, they have been told over and over, every time that they’re ignored, that they do not exist. THEY DON’T EXIST. The reason my kids have trouble functioning in their life is because they do not think that they have or deserve existence. (I’m not crying, you are.)
That clears up a lot of things for me. I don’t need to question my boys’ behavior. They act the way they do, they react the way they do, and they ask the things they do because they have never had a trusted adult show them that they are living, breathing, valuable people. Above all the other thoughts they have about adoption, there is one question that stands out, that defines for me just how they feel about themselves. “Do you think my first mom and dad would remember me? If we saw them out in a store, they probably wouldn’t know who we were, right?” That. That tells me they don’t think they’ve existed in their first family’s eyes. (No, for real, stop crying)
Putting all those things together, some (most) days I don’t know where to start. What could even begin to help? How do we make the aftermath of adoption look different than our life before?
We start with acknowledging their existence. We let them sit in on a courtroom hearing where we state the names by which they will be called from this day forward. We recognize their good and bad behaviors. We take 90% of our day to explain just one more time that they cannot leave our family. We call all their new aunts, uncles, and grandparents to tell them every little thing that happened in their day.
I’m listing those things as if we have these super effective ideas, but the ideas I’ve stated, that’s all we’ve got! And I cannot guarantee that those even work. We know what the problems are, but most of the time the path the healing is as unique as the individual. Your guess is as good as mine when it comes to figuring out how to help my kids.
I want to share this part of our journey not because we have the answers, but simply because we don’t. Jonathon and I did not follow this calling to foster/adopt because we have some divine knowledge and sudden wisdom. We don’t survive this calling by being super smart and always having a strong relationship and meeting our boys’ needs every day. Each day this Sampson clan lives out the definition of “Messy”. This means that our kids have tantrums in public that are fitting for a child well below their biological age; we have many marital arguments on how to handle behaviors; we are late to church because someone forgot to wear shoes; we have quadruple the amount of parent-teacher conferences as ‘normal’ parents; we eat popcorn and cereal for dinner. Isolating that list, it sounds like any other family, but for some reason on a daily basis all of that seems like the definition of a family that’s out of control. “When will we just get our life together?” I ask myself. I wanted that life to be the ‘before’ picture of adoption. But God didn’t call us to care for widows and orphans so we could see the ‘after’.
In Jesus’ name, we press on.