Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Grief and the Adopted Child

My adopted daughter is sad. Not every minute. In fact, for the most part I would describe her as a happy child. One of the great joys of being her parent is the way she expresses delight ... how she lights up over little things, like the small pink Christmas tree she bought for her room with her allowance. I love it when she smiles at me. I love it when she skips. I love it when she sings in the shower. And boy, does she sing in the shower!

But I'm not fully embracing all that she is if I don't acknowledge that sometimes she is sad. Lately she seems to be grieving the siblings she doesn't get to see. She hasn't wanted to talk about it much yet, but I know. I see that she has hung the sister's letters on her bedroom wall. I see that her eyes are red as she slips her family photo album into her desk drawer. She has two brothers and a sister, biological siblings, who were a part of her life when she was younger. She hasn't seen them in years, and because of circumstances that are currently beyond our control, she doesn't know when she will see them again. Think about that for a moment. Put yourself in her shoes. Imagine that kind of loss.

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Adoption is complicated and hard. It almost always involves pain and loss and trauma. Yes, there is a joyful side of it too, but the joy is not the whole story. As an adoptive parent, my tendency is to want to focus on the positive, but it is my job to make space for the mourning. My daughter is sad because she has a reason to be. Yes, she gained an adoptive family, and in so many ways she is thriving and doing well. And yes, because of our commitment to openness, she has been able to maintain a relationship with her biological mother and to form a new one with her youngest brother. But she still lost so much. 

She is grieving because she needs to grieve. This can be a hard thing for adoptive parents to accept, but it is part of loving a child who has come to you by way of loss. 

13 comments:

  1. You must be a really remarkable mom. I think it is so important to be honest and real with our kids, even when it's hard. By acknowledging her feelings, you are helping her to learn how to deal with them.

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  2. We posted similar thoughts!

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  3. Excellent. Thank you for articulating so well the feelings of adopted children. It is unfair of us to expect our children to be "grateful" all of the time when they have experienced so much loss. When we presume that requirement on them we are just being selfish. It's not about us.

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  4. > She hasn't seen them in years, and because of circumstances that are currently beyond our control, she doesn't know when she will see them again. Think about that for a moment. Put yourself in her shoes. Imagine that kind of loss.

    Becca, you just described the sorrow that many birth mothers have, too: The Invisible Grief. I know I had it -- for 30 years! I called it, "The Hole in My Heart."

    Fortunately, you recognize what is going on and can validate that feeling for her. Yes, it's a loss. How very "normal" of her to feel it!

    Love, B

    P.S. On on totally unrelated note, a week or so ago I was at a hot springs in Northern Cal where they host a lot of retreats and workshops. A sign at the gatehouse read, "Compassionate Communication Cancelled on Sunday." Good thing there are six more days in the week.

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  5. Yes, lots of overlap between the emotion of birth moms and adoptees ... and both are often given the message, directly or indirectly, that they need to get over it and move on. The normal becomes abnormal.

    That sign is nuts! I am a firm believer in communicating compassionately every day of the week.
    :-p

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  6. Thanks! I agree. "It's not about me" should be the mantra of all adoptive parents.

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  7. Indeed! We were definitely on the same wavelength. I liked your post a lot.

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  8. Rebeca this is another beautiful post and one that I find myself relating to even though we are not an adoptive family. I love the way you are so aware and respectful of your daughter's feelings. Thanks!

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  9. I could not even imagine the trauma that would cause a small child. Well done to you for not skimming over her sense of loss and focusing on the positives. This will do her a world of good. Especially at such a young age. She's lucky to have found such a caring and loving family in you!

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  10. Yes, it's true - I've had to support my biological daughter through loss and mourning as well, for different reasons. Thanks!

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  11. Just found this from your five-for-Friday post and I feel that I could have written it. My daughter, too, is sad and it is my job to make space for the mourning. In order to do that I have to work through my own grief as well - with adult resources, not with her. It's not her job to make me feel better. It's not my job to make her feel better - but to make space.

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