(Differences in Adoptive Parenting Part 4 of 4)
“The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.” (Deut. 31: 8)
Four biological children began our family; three adopted daughters completed it. My husband and I moseyed into adoptive parenthood with the same expectations we held for our biological children: we would love them and be loved in return; healthy children would blossom in our family; seasoned parenting skills would prove sufficient for the task; and our marriage would thrive. Hmmm, not so much.
Our culture perpetuates the myth that adoptive parenting is the same as biological parenting. This creates needless guilt and frustration when adoptive parents, and those who love and support them, believe it too.
For starters, adoptive parents have a different starting place. It includes attachment, grief and compromised beginnings.
Bonding and Attachment: Bonding is the connection between mother and child that occurs during pregnancy. We will never bond with our adopted child. Attachment is the capacity for a mutual and reciprocal loving relationship between one person and another. We can help them attach well.
All adopted children suffer the loss of the bond between them and their birth mother. Adoptive parenthood begins with mitigating the grief of that loss and helping them attach to us. This includes: holding, skin-to-skin contact, healthy eye contact, limiting feedings and childcare to mom and dad, and reducing stimulation and outside exposure. You many need to “hunker in” when family and friends shower you with attention. Go easy, at least at the outset.
Grief is our starting place. In her book Attaching in Adoption, Deborah Gray explains, “When parents have not worked through their own grief, it is much more difficult for them to accompany children into grief work. Rather than having the strength to support children in grief, they find their own unresolved grief facing them.”
Grief is foundational. But it can blossom into something beautiful if we do our personal work so we can help our child with theirs.
Compromised beginnings: Adoptions begin with compromised beginnings, those our child brings and the personal wounds we carry into this relationship. In-utero stress, drug and alcohol exposure, deprivation, poverty, maternal mental illness and the loss of their birth mother, to name a few, rob many children of their potential. And the wounds we carry impact our process. No shame. No blame. But its impact must be acknowledged and addressed in ways unfamiliar to biological parenting.
Children are a gift from the Lord regardless of how they enter our families. And we want to raise them to honor Him. But adoptive parents must take a different route to reach this destination than biological parents.
Be gracious with yourself and others. Enjoy the scenery. And don’t compare your trip with your friend’s journey. It’s different, but don’t be afraid or discouraged. The Lord has already gone before you.