Mothering an adopted/foster child might be the greatest challenge you’ll ever face, or should I say the greatest dance you’ll ever dance?
Dances are always preceded by dreams. Mom dreams. Big dreams. If your child will be a newborn, you might wrap him in a blanket and glide around the floor, cuddling him to the max. If your child is school-aged upon arriving, you envision the fun of teaching her the steps of the Charleston. Or if he’s a teen, you may look forward to the grandest of waltzes, with your rhythmic footsteps following one another.
Now, imagine the arena of adoption as a dance floor. You’re already there, ready to dance. You’ve pre-determined what your first dance step will be–love. Fierce love, like that of a mama bear, that saturates the unloved regions of your child’s heart, no matter the personal cost.
So, the dance begins the moment you see the face of your soon-to-be child, possibly on a computer screen for an international adoption, through your front door when his only possession upon arrival is a black garbage bag, or when you are in the delivery room with the first mom.
As a mom, you have everything in order and then your child enters your presence– you are on the dance floor together for the first time. You’re expectations are sky high. This is going to be such a life-defining moment for both.
I’m sure that’s how my adoptive mom (Retha) envisioned my homecoming at ten days of age. When my grandmother carried me into their home, she got an unexpected response–I arched my back and cried bloody murder. In the only way my newborn angry self could communicate, I said, “I’m hurting so incredibly bad. Don’t touch me, or I’ll die.”
Mom couldn’t hear my cry, for she believed that my arching back and screams meant that I was rejecting her and declaring her an unfit mom.
In addition, she was feeling totally intimidated about mothering a needy five pound infant who already was labeled “failure to thrive.” How could she even give this tiny thing a bath? What if she dropped her?
Without a doubt, Retha wanted to be the best mom possible, but back in the day, no one knew that parenting an adopted child depends on two variables–the adoptee’s level of pre-adoption trauma and the mom’s ability to be emotionally present for nurturing.
Both variables were sky high for our mom/child dance. I came to her in an extremely traumatized state. My first mother was raped and even though she desired an abortion, she carried me to birth. As an unborn baby, that had an effect on my development.
And Retha was already weighed down by infertility. Townspeople already knew that she and Mike couldn’t conceive a child, so she hid her badge of shame beneath her heart.
These variables–trauma and emotional availability– are different than variables for parenting a biological child. The requirement for parenting a bio child also requires a healthy mom, but the child usually has not been traumatized. Of course, there are always exceptions.
When I say that parenting an adopted child is different than parenting a bio child, it may be tempting to think that I’m launching into a negative narrative about adoption. Far from it. What I’m setting the stage for enhancing your ability to truly hear the cry print of your child and to be so emotionally present that nothing throws your confidence while nurturing.
So, reflecting back on my relationship with mom, her dance step was fear and mine was anger. I believe Retha translated my behavior as, “I knew I couldn’t do this. I don’t have what it takes to be her mother.”
Anger is the last thing I would choose today as my part in the dance, and the last thing Retha wouldn’t have chosen was fearfulness and inadequacy. We both would choose that ultra-loving relationship, where no words are needed, where we can gaze into one another’s eyes and know we’re loved. Where we can savor close hugs and gut-busting laughs.
And, we would work hard to get that intimacy. Truth telling. Healthy boundaries. Individual needs. This is what all moms, but especially those who parent through adoption, must make as their goal.
Yes, parenting an adopted child may be the most challenging aspect of your life, but I am confident that you want to apply the truth about these variables to your parenting.
In order to do this, I’m going to reveal the raw realities of your child’s cry print. I speak as one adopted person and not for all. Please keep this in mind throughout the book. My goal is to make you aware of the possibilities of how your child might react to the dynamics of adoption.
Remember that this isn’t a rant against adoption, but instead an indepth look at what your child is experiencing inwardly, whether or not you witness it outwardly.
Now, let’s get back to the idea of parenting being like a dance. The first thing that comes to mind is where the dance occurs, and of course, it’s the dance floor.
When I was a child, one of our neighbors lived in a stately brick house and the third floor was a huge wooden dance floor. As only a child could, I envisioned what it might be like to glide across it with the boy of my dreams.
All Things Familiar Disappear on the New Dance Floor
For an adopted child, the dance floor is the first mother’s womb, for there the unborn child gains a sense of belonging, a sensation of safety in the warm sack of water, and a sense of rhythm from the mother’s beating heart.
These dance floor elements are what every child expects after birth–a continuation and amplification of the same life-defining dynamics she experienced prior to birth.
However, if the dance floor changes through adoption, the child loses everything familiar for there is no heartbeat, no warm sack, no rhythmic heartbeat, no first mother on the dance floor.
The dance floor for foster kids can change in the blink of an eye, with one placement after another. Who can even keep track? Their dance floors pass by quickly, like a movie reel.
When all that’s familiar disappears, the adoptee goes into an extreme state of shock because this is critical trauma.
Try putting yourself in the child’s shoes for a moment. Imagine waking up in the middle of the night to the sound of a smoke alarm. You push off the covers and run through the dark to find the stop switch.
And, even when you do turn it off, your heart is still racing, you’re short of breath, and sweating profusely.
Now. let’s apply this to your adopted child. When all that’s familiar disappears, a smoke alarm blares into his brain. “Your first mother is gone. You might never see her again. You may die without her.”
The disconcerting part for the adopted child is that no one turned the alarm off, and the child can’t do it for himself when young. In fact, most parents aren’t told about the smoke alarm and how they can teach their child to turn it off through regulation.
That’s your calling, moms. Because the smoke alarm is still blaring, you must pull the covers of pain back, run through the darkness of the unknown, and turn the shock alarm off with truth, which can set your child free from his painful past.
Yes, this information is intimidating, but think about how much more alarming it would be for your child and family if you never know about this raw reality of the smoke alarm.
You must not only see this raw reality, but accept it as the dance floor dynamics you’ll have with your child.
There’s another raw reality that occurs at adoption, which we’ll call “Disappointing Dance Steps.”
The First Mother’s First Step Was Away, not Toward
Now, envision your child fumbling through the darkened dance floor to find her missing first mother. If she could only see her face, all would be well. The pain of relinquishment would disappear. It will be a wonderful dance, like in the movies.
She searches and searches, but can’t find the missing mother and realizes that the first mother’s step wasn’t toward her, but away from her. How disappointing. How debilitating.
This unexpected and unwanted dance step results in the deeper-than-death loss for the adopted child. Eventually, the maturing adult adoptee believes that recovery is impossible.
This disappointing dance step is what author Nancy Verrier addresses in her best-seller, THE PRIMAL WOUND. Many adoptees carry her book, like a Bible, for she validates this profound wound and helps adoptees feel heard and visible.
Verrier made a great contribution to the world of adoption by providing adoptee validation. However, she doesn’t provide the next steps adoptees need to heal. The result is that adoptees are stuck in anger and parents are hurting and discouraged.
The reason Verrier doesn’t offer hope that hurting adoptees and weary moms can overcome a painful past is that there wasn’t any evidence of it when she penned the book. That will change right now as I share my story of healing and hope.
There Can Be Healing from the Primal Wound
What was going on inside my head and heart? The people in my relationships hadn’t changed, but my attitude and perspective about them definitely had. Where were these warm thoughts coming from? Why was I remembering mom’s best-in-town apple pie, her gentle hands smoothing oil on my asthmatic chest, or for affectionate caring for Dinny Dinwit, my tiger kitty?
Maybe I was experiencing a brain change? After all, you hear in adoption circles about how the brain is damaged by trauma, and yet can heal. So I rummaged through all my books about the brain..in vain.
Then, I wondered if I was cracking up. Maybe I was hallucinating? I’ve been known to do that when clinically depressed, but the hubs assured me I was fine.
One day I thought about my late mom’s wedding rings. A rather bizarre thought, right? It was bizarre for two reasons. First, mom died nearly 30 years ago and second, we had a tumultuous relationship during the growing-up years. All I remembered over my seven decades of life was negative and painful.
For 53 years, I’d unintentionally carried them from geographical move to geographical move, from California to Canada. To me, they were worthless pieces of junk that should’ve been tossed decades ago.
Moments later, I rushed to my jewelry drawer, like a gold digger. And, there they were–one prominent band and a delicate eternity band, all lacking the diamonds that originally graced them.
Then, my mind flooded with new thoughts. What was it like on the evening Mom and Dad were engaged? Did Dad get down on his knee to propose? And, was she the blushing, soon-to-be bride, dreaming of a house, children, and happiness forever? I slipped the tarnished rings onto my finger and ran to husband Bob’s office, like a kid.
Just a month ago, while eating at our favorite restaurant, Bob pulled out a small box with the same rings that had been totally refurbished into glistening silver and diamonds.
This experience with mom’s rings convinced me that healing my painful past is not something that can only happen in heaven, but it can occur also in everyday life on planet earth. I have never felt happier or more whole than I do today, and I’m so thankful.
I wanted to share my message of healing and hope with you because it is new in the world of adoption. Yes, Nancy Verrier gave us the gift of validation of the seminal wound, but there’s so much more.
Thank you for listening to my story.
Now, I’m going to share one more raw reality with you and I warn you ahead of time that it’s going to be difficult to read. If you can take a break right now, get yourself a cup of tea, or take a hot bath so you can digest the information in a state of strength, that would be good. Remember also that I love you.
The Adoptive Mom Isn’t Who Adoptee Expects, or Wants
Moms, remember what your adopted child is expecting as far as their designated dance partner. They’re expecting the first mother, like any child does. We all tend to believe the old axim, “The hand that rocks the cradle rules the world.”
But providentially, guess who shows up. You. And, she didn’t expect you and doesn’t want you. Not that there’s anything wrong with you. That’s not the issue. The issue is that she wants her first mother to dance with her.
In addition, she doesn’t know who you are because you’re a mere stranger in her world. You look strange, smell strange, and speak strange.
As dance partners, you are at odds with one another. You lead and she pushes you away. You offer ferocious love and she steps on your toes and runs off the dance floor.
To your child, you are a loving stranger and you don’t have the rhythm she was wired for in the womb. Her mantra often is, “You don’t get it.” You keep stepping on her toes and she finds you distant and awkward in your dance style.
Loss Is Inherent for Every Adopted Child
I hope by now you’ll agree with the premise that loss is inherent for every adopted child, even if they seem fine. Every. Child. No exceptions. There is not one adopted child that hasn’t suffered the seminal loss of the first mother.
Some children act out their pain and some bury it in a deep cavern in their hearts, only becoming aware of it when conditions are conducive for healing.
Here’s something to put this into perspective for you and your child:
When a tree is struck by lightning,
if it survives,
its growth is altered.
A knot may form where the lightning hit.
The growth on one side of the tree may be more vigorous
than on another side,
The shape of the tree may change.
An interesting twist or curious split has replaced what might
have otherwise been a straight line.
The tree flourishes;
it bears fruit,
becomes a home to birds and squirrels.
It is not the same tree it would have been had there not
been a lightning storm,
but some say it is more interesting this way.
Few can even remember the event
that changed its shape forever.
So, let’s discuss the variable that involves you, moms, in the adoption dance.
Moms and Adopted Kids Can See the Impossible As Possible
Does your child’s healing sound impossible? Does it sound impossible that you can be that nurturing mom who can turn off the smoke alarm?
Trust me. I never had an inkling that healing from my painful past was a possibility, that newly-conscious memories could stand alongside the painful, or that true healing meant seeing both positive and painful memories without being upset.
What seemed impossible for a lifetime now looms as possible. When I think about this new reality, I’m reminded of my husband, Bob, who was invited by friends to climb a 14ner in Colorado.
In case you’re unfamiliar with the term, it means climbing a huge mountain. That would be an awesome goal for any guy, but Bob was 74.
Our two adult daughters and I were freaking out. After all, what if something awful happened? What if he didn’t have enough energy or stamina? What if he had a heart attack half way up?
The only consolation was that his climbing buddies included a physician, a pastor, and a professional trainer.
Prior to the climb, Bob wasn’t sure if he’d be able to reach the top but he trained like crazy and bought specific gear and shoes for mountain climbing.
Needless to say, the climb wasn’t easy and the way down the mountain was more difficult than the ascension. That’s where his younger friends come in– they walked behind him in case he lost his balance. There’s a photo of them at the summit. Their euphoric faces say a thousand words.
Are you ready to decide whether or not you’ll climb a 14ner? The mountain of impossibilities? The mountain trail that will lead you to hope that your adopted child can not only survive, but thrive?
This mountain that challenges every ounce of energy you can muster? The mountain that totally changes your perspective for the better?
I would love being your sherpa for the climb, for I’ve found the best paths leading up the mountain. Because I know the way to the summit, I can be the one who helps you stay on the path, encouraging you when overwhelmed.
Rest assured that as we climb I’ll be sharing powerful principles which aren’t from books or university advanced degrees. Instead, they’ve been pounded out on the anvil of my own adoptee heart.
I promise you won’t be sorry to come. No, it won’t be an easy climb, but your hard work will surely pay off in the long run. It’s my joy to be on the journey with you.
Action Step for Moms: Put On Your Yellow Rain Slicker
Even when you see and accept all the truths stated above, this doesn’t stop your child from flinging hurtful, rejecting remarks at you. Remarks like:
- You’re not my real mom.
- I hate you.
- You never “get it.”
- Go away.
Someone introduced a practical tool to me about how you can cope while rejecting words are flung.
Envision yourself wearing a yellow rain slicker that protects your from the rains of painful words. Just imagine how peaceful you could be if the words fall off you, like raindrops.
In addition, I have opened a new FB page titled “When Your Adopted Child Rejects Your Love.” It is based on the yellow rain slicker concept.
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This post is copyrighted October 20, 2019, By Sherrie Eldridge.