Three Things You Need to Know About Adoptive Parenting
by Tiana Proudfoot
(Because there’s some stuff that will never be covered in your home study.)
1. Others will not understand.
They just won’t. They can’t. Because this isn’t their story, their journey. And you didn’t truly understand it yourself until you began living it.
Try as they might, others won’t understand why you can’t put your child in an isolated time-out corner or send her to her room alone. They won’t understand that an afternoon at the playground will lead to an evening of over-stimulated tantrums. They won’t understand that when they hand your daughter a snack or ask your son for a hug, they have just caused a set-back in your attachment process. One that will take you days to recover from.
They will think you are crazy when you admit you occasionally bottle-feed your preschooler. They will think you are spoiling him when they learn he is still sleeping in your bedroom. They will look at you in horror when you casually mention that you had to physically restrain your raging child three times this week.
You know your child, and you know your child’s needs. And you know you might need to parent your child differently than your friends parent their children. They will not understand. But that’s okay. Just continue to parent your child, and let them parent theirs, and you can still be friends and learn from one another. It’s okay when families are different. It’s okay when friends don’t fully understand.
It might feel lonely at times. It might make you crazy other times. You might fear losing it if you hear one more person say, “All kids are like that.” But take a breath, remind yourself how well they mean, and remember that once upon a time, you didn’t know what post-trauma parenting entailed, either.
You do not need to prove a point or make a case for your way of parenting. You do not always need to explain attachment and connection and why it hasn’t come naturally for your newly adopted five-year-old. You will learn to spot the friends who truly want to learn about your life, and they are the ones you can talk to. They are the ones who will attempt to understand. And you will give them grace if they still can’t.
2. It is not your job to heal this child.
You are not a healer. You are not a savior. You are not a redeemer. You cannot fix what is broken. You cannot erase the wounds of the past just by loving in the present and promising a future.
You cannot heal this child. It is not your calling; it is not your job; it is not your role in his life.
You are his parent. Not his healer. Your job is simply stated, but it may be the hardest one you will ever know.
Your job is to love this child.
That love will look different, feel different and do different than other loves and other children. So whatever it means to really love this child - the one who came from different flesh, different circumstance, perhaps even a different land … Whatever it means to love this child: that is what you have been called to do.
So when the wounds are seeping again and you can’t understand why your best efforts are seeming to go unnoticed by this broken little being, stop. Take a breath. And remind yourself what your job is.
It is not to heal. You cannot heal. If that is your goal, you will fail every time.
You are to love. You are to be faithful in that love. And you are to hold your child in his brokenness, and point his heart to the only One who can do the healing. You are to equip him with all he needs to succeed in life. You are to hug him when he’s sad for reasons he is far too young to understand. You are to protect him as best as you can from further trauma and deeper wounds. You are to connect with him on a level that makes him squirm in fear of the vulnerability.
But, praise God, it is not your job to heal him. Leave the healing to the Healer, and just simply focus on the love. Because some days, the love is hard enough. Do not set yourself to the impossible. You cannot redeem this child’s past. That is not your job.
It is His. And this child is His. And you are His. And He has given you a front-row seat to view the healing and redemption being spun in this tiny, wounded heart.
And that is a job worth embracing.
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3. At some point, you will want to give up.
It’s not because you don’t love your child. It’s not because you’re a terrible parent. But when your four-year-old daughter is still screaming in your arms after an hour, and you feel like you might legitimately lose your mind, and your friends who’ve never parented a post-trauma child nod along and say, “I know exactly what you mean, my son actually threw himself on the floor and cried for ten minutes yesterday, and that’s just how kids are, so don’t worry about it, and have you tried sending her to her room when she does that,” … You will feel like giving up. You will want to give up. You will wish you could give up.
You will long for the elusive sense of normalcy. Whether you have biological children or this adopted child is your firstborn, you will know within yourself that this parenting - this family-life - is not normal. And your heart will pull toward whatever definition of normal seems easiest in that moment. You will think something must be inherently wrong with the family you are attempting to raise, because it never even tiptoes near that picture of normal you just conjured up. And because you are so far from normal, you will wonder why for the love of it all you ever thought adoption was a good idea, and you will want to give up.
But it’s okay. You will tell yourself that again and again and again, for as long as it takes.
It’s okay that your preschooler still fights the urge to ‘shop’ for a new set of parents. She will not do it forever. It’s okay that you have to fake a smile while you rock the little one who just spent every ounce of his energy kicking and flailing against you. This will not be your reality forever.
It’s okay that your family isn’t normal. It has been built through heartache, trauma, loss and grief. But it’s okay - because it is also built through love. Yes, so much love. The kind that weathers these storms. That sees through the anger to the pain.
And that is why you won’t give up. You will once again reach past yourself and into your child’s deepest needs. You will let her cry and scream and stomp, spitting your name out like a poison. You will sit with her through it, and you will let her give you all the anger and pain and wounds she has. Because she is yours. And you love her deeply. And you know that one day, she will be whole again.
Tiana Proudfoot lives in Virginia with her husband, her husky, and their beautiful, fun-loving, sassy-pants Ugandan daughter. Tiana is stumbling down the road of parenting the best she knows how, which usually means a whole lot of apologies and glimpses of grace; living on sunshine, love, caffeine and faith. She and her husband have been wrapped up in East Africa and international adoption since 2008, and they are now getting ready to welcome two boys from China into their crazy, messy family this fall. You can read more of their story at tianajane.wordpress.com