One of my friends recently shared on Facebook that she was struggling with being newly home with her second Chinese son. She received so many encouraging comments, it was beautiful! But she also received a hurtful comment implying that parenting biological and adopted children is exactly the same, and she should roll with the punches because everyone else had been through the same things with their new children. Although I know this could be true in some cases, I also know that parenting adopted children is sometimes very different.
Of course, each child is unique and different. There is no one-size-fits-all status for any child, biological or adopted. But as a parent of both biological and adopted children, I see the differences, especially when they first become part of your family. Parenting a new child who may have been institutionalized for the first part of their life – who may not have had someone to meet their needs consistently, who may not have been loved or told how precious they are, who may have been neglected and/or abused – can be very challenging and delicate compared to parenting a child who was loved and had his/her needs met consistently from the beginning. While I know that biological children can also offer significant challenges, institutionalization introduces a number of issues not typically common with biological children. Children who have been institutionalized can be traumatized, hurt, and delayed. Children generally lose one month of development and linear growth for every three months they are institutionalized. Our children often come to us with behaviors learned to survive. We usually do not share most of those behaviors with others to protect our hurting children.
Teaching them that they have parents who love them unconditionally and will meet their needs often takes a lot of intentionality and time. This may include not letting anyone hold our children or help with any basic needs until he/she is firmly attached and bonded to us as their new parents. As much as we may want and desperately need the help that is very naturally accepted when we bring biological newborns home, we oftentimes hold off with adopted children because we know it’s best for our children. There may not have been a consistent caregiver in their past. They may have depended on only themselves to survive. Survive is defined as “to continue to live or exist, in spite of danger or hardship.” Survival is the most basic human instinct that children shouldn’t have to worry about. If consistency is lacking, our children may think they can only depend on themselves. Oftentimes the only way to teach them that mama and daddy will always be there for them is to be the only people to meet their needs. It can be exhausting and isolating.
Add in the fact that you are parenting a new toddler (or older child in many cases) with a very clear personality for the first time … the road can be much harder and may look a lot different than parenting biological children. Throw in a the possibility of a language barrier, institutional delays, weekly therapies, and medical special needs … it all just compounds how difficult adoptive parenting can be. It may be easy to look at the beautiful airport homecoming pictures and new family portraits and think the family is filled with love and everything is perfect. The truth is the family is filled with love and it is very beautiful indeed, but things are not always perfect. Fortunately we are filled up daily with His perfect love and that shines through. It is only from the Father that we have the strength in those first few months (or sometimes years). Only He makes beauty from ashes and has the ability to redeem the brokenness of adoption. His beauty and truth always shine through.
I do not think everyone should feel sorry for anyone or adoptive parents deserve a big pat on the back. We all mess up daily (often minute by minute) just like every other parent on the planet and need Jesus desperately! I write it only to offer a different perspective and to hopefully share that parenting biological and adopted children can be very different. It’s hard to understand for most people who haven’t parented children from hard places. I get that. But when adoptive parents are struggling through something tough and are asking for support and prayer, it may not always be the normal everyday parenting stuff. Of course, it is ALL worth it. Totally worth it. Biological or adopted, it doesn’t matter – every bit of it is worth it. Every child who we have the privilege of parenting here on earth is precious and unique. We get such a special opportunity to borrow them for a bit from the Father to train them up! It is surely beautiful and we are overwhelmed with love. Our children are gifts from the Lord and it is our privilege to parent them.