As pre-adoptive parents prepare to bring our children home, we go through hours upon hours of parent training. Not to mention meetings with our social worker, and any reading we may do on our own to help prepare for the day our new son or daughter joins their forever family.
One of the topics that gets talked about frequently is dealing with your child’s grief. Whether a child waits in a less-than-perfect situation, or is in a pretty ideal place, they forever leave their familiar life behind. Nannies and friends at the orphanage. Foster parents and foster siblings. Possibly even classmates in school. Not to mention the sights, smells, sounds, and cultural nuances that make up their birth country. Their entire world gets turned upside down, and as their new parents we need to know how to handle it when our child grieves for the life they lost.
But one thing that doesn’t get talked about very often is how an adoptive parent should respond when they find themselves grieving. Because…no matter how happy the adoptive parents may be or how much they love their new addition…when a new child enters the family oftentimes a part of their old life is “lost” for the adoptive family as well. Suddenly the home that made sense and ran like a well-oiled machine is thrown into chaos and confusion by things like a grieving child, orphanage behaviors, attachment struggles, processing disorders, medical needs, night terrors, or other children in the home regressing due to the addition of a new sibling. If an older child joins the family, then things like language barriers and cultural differences come into play. It can feel like the magic trick where a magician quickly pulls the tablecloth away…only you’re left wondering how and when the pieces will fall into place again.
The adoption process is such an emotionally draining experience. When we’re in the midst of it, we want it to move at least twice as fast as it’s currently moving. Every day counts and we can tell anyone who asks…and even some who don’t!…exactly how many seconds we’ve been waiting to move onto the next step. Getting our child home becomes almost an obsession, and we share that obsession with our friends and family pretty much daily for months on end. So, when we get home and find it’s not everything we hoped and dreamed of during the agonizing months of waiting for the next “A” to arrive…then what?
I certainly don’t have all the answers. But I do know that with our first adoption, I kept the less-than-perfect stuff hidden as much as I could…and that didn’t work. Spending all day pretending that things are perfect, then locking yourself in the bathroom after the kids go to bed and crying until you have no more tears left isn’t the way to go. However, with adoptions two and three I’ve learned that talking with my social worker and other adoptive parents is a panacea for the soul. Transparency with friends and family makes a world of difference. Leaving my child(ren) with a trusted person while sneaking away for a cup of coffee or a pedicure helps immensely. And going through counseling is great!!! Taking care of myself isn’t a reason to feel guilty. It’s a NEED. I’m human and have emotional needs, too. And to put it bluntly…if I’m not making sure my own emotional needs are being met, I’m not going to be able to meet the needs of my new child. But the thing I’ve found to work the best is to make peace with the fact that I’m not perfect, I don’t have it all together, and it’s okay if our family isn’t the poster family for adoption. It’s a lonely feeling to be in this place. But, I’ve also learned through my own experience that I am NOT alone in my struggles. Other adoptive parents go through them, too. These struggles come in different shapes and sizes, and they need to be dealt with in different ways. But they’re common.
Being an adoptive parent is hard work. And sometimes admitting our failures, having a cup of coffee with a friend, taking a trip to the spa, savoring a pint of Ben & Jerry’s, letting our tears fall into a bubble bath, or even meeting with someone in professional circles to help us is the work that needs to be done. But that’s okay. If you’re in that place, don’t feel guilty. Or alone. Because I’m right there with ya. The day will come when we’re not here anymore. Adoptions one and two taught me that. But for now, what’s important is that we deal with our struggles…whether it be grief or otherwise…the best way we know how.
And boy, do I wish we could take a spa day together…