Adoptive and Foster Parents Can Offer Comfort on Boo-Hoo Birthdays

This is a piece of birthday cake illustrating the possibility of a positive experience for adopted and foster children on birthdays, However, many don't enjoy. They might even throw the cake. They are experiencing mixed feelings. This post tells how parents can nurture and ease sad and happy birthdays with a creative idea of an ice cream craft.

As a child, I always sabotaged my birthday. No matter how my hard my parents tried to love on me, I threw the day into complete chaos, usually rejecting them….or just being crabby.

With the best of intentions, those who love the adoptee celebrate the day as if she were a non-adopted person. However, in the midst of the parties, the celebration, many adoptees feel churned up inside. They know they are supposed to be happy, but a nagging thought plagues them: “I wonder if she (the birth mother) is t

What does a birthday represent? For us, it represents a day of great loss, the day our birth mothers and all that was familiar disappeared.

For the child who was adopted later in childhood, it reminds him of the wrenching-apart day–the day that the past, as he knew it, was to be no longer. For the baby adopted as an infant, the loss happened before he had words to describe it, but it was real, nonetheless. The present-day birthday serves as a trigger, reminding him of past loss.

It is a delicate art for parents to handle adoptee/foster children’s birthdays. Sometimes, it may feel like walking on eggshells.

But, you can do it, parents.

Here are five things adoptees often say about their birthdays.

FIVE THINGS ADOPTEES SAY ABOUT BIRTHDAYS

1. IT’S A SAD DAY

We want to celebrate, but there is a sadness that pulls us down, like a magnet.

Dan said that birthdays were always bittersweet for him. As a child, he said he felt like he was living in a gap, or a changing room. Birthdays were a time when he remembered his birth mother and felt like the two of them were kindred spirits. Whenever he communicated these thoughts to his adoptive family, they had difficulty relating to what he was trying to say. He confessed, “On birthdays, I wished I could have been a better child for my adoptive parents.”

“My birthday is the blackest day of my year,” Melinda said. “My husband would always know because I would either lay in bed at night and cry or soak in the tub and sob. I wondered if my birth mother knew what today was.”

2. I FANTASIZE ABOUT MY BIRTH MOTHER

The adopted/foster child reasons, “If she thinks about me at all, she is probably thinking about me today.”Many adult adoptees report that birth mothers usually don’t remember birthdays, as they are in the midst of great trauma.

Mary Watkins and Susan Fisher describe a scene between a three-year-old and her adoptive mother in Talking with Young Children About Adoption:

“Is she coming? Is my lady coming?” the child asks.
“Which lady?” the mother asks.
“You know,” child replies, “the lady I grew inside. It’s my birthday, isn’t it?”

3.  I CONFORM TO PARENTAL AND SOCIETAL EXPECTATIONS

Because parental and societal expectations are high about birthdays, we believe we must conform. Therefore, we put on a happy face and fake enjoying the day. However, inside, we feel like a hurting baby that wants to be comforted and held.

Weighing heavily upon the adoptee as well are society’s romanticized views of adoption. Be happy. Be grateful you have a family. Don’t disappoint your parents.

4.  I FEAR THERE IS SOMETHING WRONG WITH ME

Nancy Verrier says in The Primal Wound of the child adopted at birth, “There seems to be an anniversary reaction (also felt by the birth mother), which sends many adoptees into despair around their birthdays… is it any wonder that many adoptees sabotage their birthday parties? Why would one want to celebrate the day they were separated from their birth mothers? The adoptees, of course, have probably never really understood, themselves, why they do this.”

Reflecting on his teen years, Bob said, “Birthdays made me feel awkward when I was an adolescent.”

5. I DON’T WANT TO BE THE CENTER OF ATTENTION

Beth says, “As I look back at my childhood, I think I felt the uninvited guest at my own party. I was there but disassociated. I was in the midst of some kind of script and moved through it, but without any heart, without any sense of connection or aliveness. I’m not sure why I cringe when I hear about the celebrations of Adoption Day. For me, the joining with a new family carries with it the separation from another family. This is a gigantic double bind: celebrating joining and simultaneously grieve leaving. I think this is impossible.

“I purposely go out of town on my birthday because I don’t want any attention,” sid a thirty-year-old male adoptee. “So I was born. Big deal. I don’t want any attention.”

“I hate my birthday,” Trisha confessed to her support group.

Now that you know what may going on within your child’s heart, you can be proactive. Here are five things you can do to ease the distress. Be aware that all the above don’t apply to all adoptees.

WHAT PARENTS CAN DO TO COMFORT MIXED FEELINGS

  1. RECOGNIZE DISTRESS SIGNALS. Even though most adoptees don’t talk about it, I believe there are clues parents can look for in assessing whether their child is struggling with birthdays. Some of the symptoms you can look for in your child are:
    • feeling sad and angry at the same time
    • feeling like they can’t enjoy themselves
    • trying extra-hard to please you
    • wanting to run away and hide
    • criticizing those who give gifts
    • criticizing the gifts
    • feeling victimized by expressions of love–none of them are enough
    • daydreaming (possibly wondering about birth mother)
    • being disgusted with themselves for acting angry or critical
    • feeling an unusual level of anxiety
    • minimizing the importance of their birthday–“It’s is no big deal”
    • sabotaging birthday celebrations
    • depression
    • withdrawal
    • self-condemnation.

2. ESTABLISH BIRTHDAY RITUALS

Bill said his mother established certain rituals that brought a sense of continuity and belonging for him. Special dinners with all the family members present.
Another thing you may want to consider to help your child deal with the mixture of feelings is to pull the grief box off the shelf at birthday time and add another item–perhaps a birthday candle. Go through all the emotions described in an earlier chapter to help the child get in touch with her feelings. Then put the grief box up on the shelf until it is needed again. If using the grief box doesn’t seem appropriate, perhaps you could pull your child’s life book out and go through it from day one, reading the welcoming letter you wrote to your child.

3. ASK QUESTIONS

Ask questions of your child preceding and on his special day. “What would you like to do on your birthday?” “How are you feeling about your birthday approaching? Some adoptees feel sad or even angry on that day. Do you ever feel that way? If you do, it’s okay to talk about it with us. We will do our best to understand and help you work through the mixture of feelings.”

4. GIVE EXTRA NURTURING

Think about some of the things that soothe your child. If he likes back rubs, give him one. Children need to calm their bodies, which are keyed up with tension.
Beefing up bedtime rituals can also be soothing: an extra story, a massage, a night light, thinking together of some good dreams to have, or a tape recorder to play some favorite music. Get out the weighted blanket. Make a tent together.

5. TALK ABOUT MIXED FEELINGS AND DO ICE-CREAM ACTIVITY

Share with the family that birthdays may be days of mixed feelings—feelings of happy and sad at the same time. Happy that you have a wonderful adoptive or foster family,  but sad that you lost your first family.

Get a gallon of vanilla ice cream to illustrate this to the family. Pre-buy five candy bars, all different brands. Have on hand: a cutting board, a hammer (which you will keep secret), bowls and spoons for everyone.

When everyone is seated around the table, ask each person to choose his/her favorite candy bar. Then, ask them to return the bars to you. Without warning, bring the hammer to the table and start pounding the bars to smithereens. Explain that life can be that way….we can be broken and hurting. Tell that adoption day is often that way. Proceed to mix the broken bars into the ice cream. “What if we take the broken pieces and mix them in the ice-cream? They become something even better.”

“When we talk about our mixed feelings on birthdays, we can grow even closer together, and that is so delicious.”

All quotes are used by permission of Sherrie Eldridge and are drawn from her book 20 THINGS ADOPTED KIDS WISH THEIR ADOPTIVE PARENTS KNEW.

How To Tell If You’ve Been Called to Parent Through Adoption or Foster Care

This image shows a son riding on his dad's back. It illustrates the need for adoptive and foster parents to celebrate adoption with their kids. Practical tips are offered here about ways to celebrate.

Without a doubt, you know that an absolute miracle transpired in your heart when you adopted your child. Trying to describe it would be impossible, for it was like a million emotions exploding simultaneously—like fireworks!

If I had to pick just one moment of absolute, unadulterated joy it would be the moment I saw her photo pop up on my computer screen. I kept saying, ‘That’s her, that’s my daughter, my daughter, my daughter!’ And somehow, in all the crazy excitement of the moment, I felt my heart fold itself around her half a world away.

This miracle needs to be reflected upon and celebrated often, especially when times get rough.

It is my belief that becoming a parent through adoption parallels becoming a parent biologically, except for the fact that are some more wondrous parts for parents through adoption, as well as some more painful aspects. Let’s talk about the pleasurable part first!

Conceived Again in Your Hearts

Think about the fact that every person on the face of this earth is conceived physically and the parental awareness of that conception might be pleasure or displeasure.

However, the adopted child is conceived again in your hearts, at a specific time and a specific place. Twice conceived! What a wonderful assurance for both parent and child. The first time the thought entered your mind about adopting a child, that likely was adoption conception. You may be understandably thinking that those thoughts enter the minds of many. Surely, but they wash away, like sandcastles in the tide. For adoption parents, the thoughts return, not in an obsessive and upsetting manner, but as consistent heart impressions. You know you want to parent a child. Your motivation is not to fulfill your need to become a parent, but to fulfill the needs of a child who needs good parents.

There may be a “dragger” and a “draggee!”

Perhaps one person experiences adoption conception and it takes a while for the spouse to become convinced. This was the situation with Laurel and her husband. “I had a dream and in the dream was picture of children—two Chinese girls and a boy. Laurel and her husband had already adopted two little girls from China. Thus, when Laura woke up, she wondered, “Who is the boy?” Her mind began reasoning that it’s nearly impossible to adopt boys from China. Then a friend who knew nothing about her dream, said, “So, are you planning to adopt again? Yesterday, I heard about a boy from China who is available for adoption. Let me give you the web site.” Laura went to the site, read the information and printed his photo, but no lightening bold of insight hit her, even though she began praying for him. After two months, she was convinced about adoption, but her husband wasn’t. Then, the adoption agency called to say that the boy was now unavailable and the paperwork was returned to China, which made adoption almost impossible. Months later, her husband told Laura that he thought they should adopt the boy. In an incredible turn of events, that night the head of another adoption agency called to say they’d been doing research and Michael had just been added to their list for available adoptees. Before long, the little boy from China that Laura first dreamed of, was a member of their family.

For Melissa, it happened when she learned that an acquaintance, still a child herself, was expecting a child facing the hardest decision of her life. Melissa wept for the birth mother and the unborn baby she was carrying. At that moment, the thought of adoption entered Melissa’s heart and seven months later, that baby was placed in her arms by a loving birth family.

Placed Miraculously in Your Arms

Prior to that adoption day, a child has neither a home nor parents who are prepared to parent. Sleeping in a long crib with other babies, she may never leave the nursery. On adoption day, the orphanage worker hands her to the parents, wrapped in a tattered bedspread that the orphanage worker must keep. Without a stitch to her name, her parents reach out as the bedspread unfolds that small body and the hand-off takes place At last, they can touch her soft pink skin and hold her close. Their dream has come true.

The child that was conceived in their hearts is now in their arms.

After the long train and plane rides home, she settles into her own crib in her own room, surrounded by the loving gifts of friends awaiting her homecoming. To look at her months later, she’s sitting on a soft carpet, dressed in a dainty pink and white lace dress, circled by admirers. What a beautiful picture of adoption—a child who had nothing is embraced by parents who have given her a name, an identity, a forever home, unconditional love, a nurturing family, and security.

Cari and Phil from Indianapolis said after bringing their daughter home from the Ukraine, “Bringing her home and realizing this is OUR baby and she is here to stay is joy unspeakable! She is not from my womb but I feel she was and is ours! I walk into her nursery and feel overwhelmed, knowing a few weeks ago she was somewhere way around the world, and now she is here.”

Rebecca’s family from New Jersey adopted a twelve-year-old child. “The first day we met was incredible – it was as though she had been waiting for me, as though she knew me when she saw me, as though she could understand the words I spoke to her, as I knelt before her. When I asked her if she wanted to come home with me, be a family with me, love each other, she didn’t waver in her gaze but stretched her little arms out to me, asking to be picked up. In my embrace, she wrapped her arms around me, grabbed handfuls of my hair, searched my face again, and cuddled into my neck.”

Kristen and her husband from Nevada adopted a newborn domestically. “I felt every emotion, from A to Z, the moment we got the call that our precious daughter was born. The first time I held her and our tears mixed, I knew she was mine. The memory of watching my husband holding her and looking so happy still brings tears of joy.”

Connected Forever to Your Soul

There are so many parents I have interviewed that have expressed the belief that “this was meant to be.” They know, without a doubt, that this child was meant from all eternity to become a member of their family

As an adopted person, I will never forget the realization as a young adult that my biological parents and my mom and dad had been handpicked for me. In my mind, to this day, there were no coincidences and no mistakes.

There is a wonderful plan behind it all that I can’t see, like looking at a beautiful tapestry from the underside. Someday I will see it in all it’s splendor.

By the way, parents, this is a point you want to emphasize with your children—that this was meant to be. No mistakes! We adoptees secretly believe that our lives are a mistake because of the circumstances surrounding our conception or relinquishment. Others feel like “aliens” who were just dropped into their mom and dad’s home. Your child will wholeheartedly be able to celebrate adoption with you when he knows “it was meant to be.”

Unexpected Beginnings

Lest we get carried away with euphoria and verge on the precipice of romanticism, let’s remember that not all adoption days are filled with joy. Some are downright painful and parents must remember that this is no reflection on them. “The first night our baby came to us,” Julie sobbed, “I dreamed she pulled a silk scarf over her face. I woke startled, but she was asleep in the bassinet beside our bed. I didn’t fall in love with our baby at first sight. She cried and cried, and I couldn’t comfort her. For the first 100 hours we were together, she cried or slept—exhausted.”

She startled or blinked at sound, withdrew from touch. I didn’t know her. I felt ashamed.

Elizabeth D. Branch describes their experience on the first day with their their-and one-half year old daughter: “How do you love an adopted child? Will you love her as much as your biological children?” With a resounding yes, of course…However, you never asked yourself if she would love you. This is my story. This is where my bubble popped, and our difficult journey began. The next morning, our first morning together with our daughter, my husband walked into the living room where I was playing with her. She took one look at him, then hung her head down and started to cry—not just sniffling, but deep, terrified shrieks of fear. We were confused, thinking it was a one-time thing. Unfortunately, this behavior continued for the rest of our trip.”

When the Bubble Bursts–Don’t Panic!

Some adopted children are extremely needy when you receive them and no matter how hard you have worked at being ready to connect on a meaningful level, your child may not be ready to connect with you…yet.

Newborns and parents don’t always fall in love at first sight. Thankfully you have a lifetime to work on it. There’s no race. What matters is your commitment to attach no matter how long it takes.

Also, let me add here that in the best case scenario adoption day, it is STILL stressful, even though a wonderful thing is occurring. We will talk more about that later, but first let me share a story that reminds me of you and your relationship to your children. Perhaps it is one you can share with your children someday!

COACH SHERRIE’S INVITATION

When you get some free moments, pull out your child’s baby book, or life book, make yourself a cup of coffee or tea, curl up in an easy chair and allow your mind to remember the wonders of your child’s adoption. Even if it was a painful experience at first, reflect upon how you grew strong through it and how you and your child came through it successfully.

COACH SHERRIE’S ASSIGNMENT

Establish a “reflection ritual” with your family. Explain to them how important it is to remember the miracles of adoption and talk about it with one another often.

• Set the time for your conversation with your family about “reflection night.”

• As a family, determine the date of the first reflection night and brainstorm on something special each person might bring to the evening: bake cookies, find a poem about adoption, share your first memory, find a contemporary song about adoption, go through the “life book” together.

(This is an excerpt from the book: 20 THINGS ADOPTIVE PARENTS NEED TO SUCCEED)

What Should Adoptees and Foster Kids Do with Negative Birth History?

The problem of finding negative birth family history brings adopted and foster kids to a decision point. Will they be defined by the past or begin living anew? Sherrie Eldridge just experienced negative birth history and shares her thoughts for going on,

It’s a feeling like none other. A churning. A desire for truth in the inmost parts, propelling me to action. If you were to see me now,  you would think I were searching for gold.

Instead, its clues from my alleged birth father’s military records.

Records reveal that he was suffering from psychoneurosis, anxiety, nervousness, restlessness, sleeplessness, and headaches which were the results of a “hold up” (his words).

Who in their right mind would do this? Most people don’t need to look for relatives. And what would normal families think of me searching for lost relatives with negative, painful histories?

Am I a fool?

Should I be sneaky and not let anyone know I am searching?

Sometimes, I feel like a little imp, begging for food on the street corner.

It’s just not fair that we adoptees have to be the searchers.

They should search for us.

Even though birth father wasn’t able to serve in the military as a soldier, he later enlisted in Arkansas in a different capacity…a chauffeur. His home was in Portland Oregon. Also, he has auburn hair.

I’ve been told by experts that the DNA matching is really quite credible. It shows me to have a half-sister and half-brother.

And so, the journey continues.

My adoptee heart that yearns for truth reminds me that adoption, indeed, is a lifelong journey.

This day, I am grateful for my adoption, which removed me from a mentally-ill father and an abusive mother.

God is good.