Wednesday, February 9, 2011

"Adoptive Parenting"

When I started this journey, I desperately wanted to believe I could parent our adopted child the way any parent would, love him with all my heart, and it would all work out. As I actually experience being Jackson's momma, and read more and more about adoption, I absolutely know this is not true. There was always a voice in my head that told me things would be different, but I could only handle a little at a time, so I figured we'd cross that bridge when we got there. And we will. But I am finding I am already to that bridge with Jackson. I am already making decisions about how to parent him based *partly* on the knowledge that he was adopted into our family, and what this experience (and all that surrounds it) may mean to our little man.

I have been reading Twenty Things Adopted Kids Wish Their Adoptive Parents Knew and I have to say that I love it and would highly recommend it to anyone who has any kind of relationship with a child who was adopted, but especially parents. It is hard at first to read - the reality of adoption can be painful. But if you can get past the "reality check," and understand that these are all things that kids can deal with, and that your child won't necessarily struggle with it all, then I think it is a great read. Each chapter has a title that states a feeling or experience an adopted child may have. I just read the chapter entitled, "I Am Afraid You Will Abandon Me."

Given what I do for a living, I know that there is a normal childhood fear of abandonment by parents that we all have to eventually face and conquer, and the book states this as well. What most babies/ young children learn through this developmental stage (and through normal healthy parent-child relationships) is that this fear is unwarranted and just an illusion. There is no truth to this fear in their lives. However, an adopted child has a very different story. Abandonment is truth. (Side note: We all know that birthparents are not generally "abandoning" their children. I am speaking from the child's experience of relinquishment, not the reality of it that they will eventually need to integrate into their understanding of their adoption). Anyway, for my son, abandonment was how his story started, at 2 days old. He has an added twist of going to a foster home for 2.5 more days, and then those people disappeared, too. I cannot underestimate the powerful impact these experiences had on him if I want to be the best mom I can be to him.

So, when I begin something like sleep training or when I make a plan for Jax for when we will be away having baby #2, I want to be clear that I do it with a great deal of thought and care, maybe more so than other parents. What I know in my heart, and what the book has been clear about, is that it is my job to prove to Jackson over and over again that I am, and always will be, here for him - even when he can't see me. This is an important job for adoptive parents. And our children require us to prove it to them in different ways throughout each development stage. So, in Jackson's case, I always go to him if he cries or fusses too long. I use words and tell him that I love him and will never just leave him. I promise him I'll always come back. I hug him and kiss him and reassure him. I try to make sure that if I have to be away from him for a day (or more) that he gets to stay in his environment, with people he knows and loves. I know that all parents do this, but I feel an added pressure to always do this and to learn new ways of doing it as he develops. When he is awake in the middle of the night, my mind always weighs all of these things, including the fact that he was adopted, before I take action. Just letting him cry is not always acceptable to me, because I am doing the important job of raising a child who came to me through the miracle of adoption. And that means I have to consider his experience of the adoption - which isn't always going to be as miraculous and joyful as mine.

I am well aware that it is necessary for me to be balanced here. Not everything that Jackson feels or experiences will be related to his adoption. But because adoption (and his experience of abandonment) happened at such a primal and vulnerable time in his life, he will always be carrying it with him in his unconscious self. And that means I have to be watching for it, and doing everything I can to be what the book calls his "journey mate." And mostly that means loving him, listening carefully and always responding with empathy. It also means getting a healthy handle on my own feelings about adoption so that I can see what Jackson needs with a clear heart. I know it is not going to be easy, but I would do it a million times over for this sweet little boy...


  1. Thanks for this post, I was about to ask for good adoption books! I'll get this one asap!

  2. You're the perfect mom to Jackson. You love him as much as a biological child, yet you choose to research how to deal with the adoption so he is best able to handle it. You're preparing yourself for everything and making sure you're the best mom possible for him. I think that's great!

  3. Sounds like you having the insight has already given him his strong foundation. But most of what Moms do is instinct: an innate drive to protect and love their children. I would even go farther to say women in general "Nurture" all children. You were meant to be a Mom Faith, and you are great at it!

  4. Great post! I think I will read this book next in the adoption reading challenge. I wish I would have read it even sooner.

    ~ Jill

  5. I can't believe you only have 6 days to go! YOu must be getting excited! I completely understand parenting a bio child vs an adopted child. It IS different. Many times I ask myself, would Yohanna's Bmom agree with this? Would she like her doing this? I constantly second-guess myself, where my bio's I don't at all. It is different, but oh so WONDERFUL!

  6. Don't second guess yourself or you will drive yourself crazy. You two are great parents for Jax and will be for our new precious grandchild. They both will be loved and care for just as much. You will make the best decisions you can with the best information and compassion you have for each situation.