No human, even adoptive or foster parents, can impart self-worth to the adopted child. It’s downright impossible. That’s because there is something that remains untouchable –the adoptee’s submerged belief that something is wrong with them. That’s why they were given away. Why was I given away? Was I too small, too big, ugly, crying too much?
I believe the repercussion of this belief is non-existent self-worth and self-esteem. There is nothing, absolutely nothing, that anyone can do to heal this false belief, this lie. Throw the adopted child into counseling, affirm his worth to you morning noon and night, and pray with fancy words that he’ll be able to see himself in a healthy way. Nothing works, in fact, your efforts in this regard may prove detrimental.
When I was graduating from high school, I so admired one of my friends who was also graduating. I loved her hairstyle–a pixie–and her dress, which was black with a white scalloped collar. I could have bought a lovely dress for myself. Retha and Mike, my parents would have seen to that. Instead, I borrowed the friend’s dress and got my hair cut in a pixie for my senior picture. I believed that if I wore her dress and copied her hairstyle, I would be strong and confident, even though I wouldn’t have put it into those words back in the day.
For me, self-worth and esteem were non-existent, and I’m certain that many fellow adoptees would identify. When I was about to be married, I chose not to wear a big, white wedding dress because I was a bad girl and got pregnant. One time a dear friend told me that the reason I didn’t was because of my integrity–that I couldn’t present myself in a way that wasn’t authentic.
As a young mom of two daughters, I agreed to move with my husband everywhere Dow Chemical assigned him–a total of 5 cross-country moves. I didn’t think I had the right to say, “I’m tired of moving. I vote to stay.”
Intimidated by Others
When I was asked to be trained as a Teaching Leader for Bible Study Fellowship in California, I felt so insignificant compared to the other woman who got training with me. One time during that week-long, arduous training, another woman peeked inside the car where I was seated and said, “You are just as good and talented as her.” It didn’t help me and made me even more nervous that others could tell I had no self worth. I thought I was hiding it. Then, at the end of the week, I was sure that I was going to be rejected as a Teaching Leader. I hadn’t “performed well” and the challenges were almost more than I could meet. For sure, someone who’s not living their “A game” should be rejected. But, I wasn’t. I’m sure much of my anxiety resulted from this intense experience. That’s the thing with many adoptees like me. We can appear stronger than we really are, and when others put us into places of leadership, it intensifies the pain.
So, the other woman and I began the first international class in a small Michigan town. But, then, my husband was transferred again. I was happy about this because I wouldn’t have to do public speaking–my #1 fear.
When we made the move, I found out right away that five women in that small town were praying for a Teaching Leader to begin a new class. So, I did. For five years, I led a class of 300 women and 45 leaders. Even though I dressed to the hilt, I had no self worth. How could that be? I’d been trained by the finest of leaders, was convinced I was chosen by God to fill that position, and women seemed to grow from my teaching. But, in the midst of it all,with the expensive suits and high heels, I ached inside. For sure, I want to not let anyone know, though, like at my previous training. Just before the five years were up and my husband got the next transfer to Indiana, a sweet midlife woman made a beautiful, hand-stitched quilt for me. When I thanked her, she said, “Now, maybe you’ll feel good about yourself.”
When my adoptee heart was put into all these situations, it was silently remembering the hand-off by the First Mother. This is huge, my friends. While researching for my next book, I’ve come to the conclusion that most issues stem from this loss. This is not to throw a bucket of cold water on First Mothers. Many of my friends occupy that role and my opinion of them is epic.
So, what are adoptive and foster parents to do about this possible dilemma? Can they prepare for it? And, if they do, can it be averted? No, in my experience, there is no quick fix by humans. With all my heart, I believe that self-worth–the life-transforming kind–comes from God. Just know that the ache is real, even though we may be performing well. Many times, we perform well so that you’ll be proud of us–so that your expectations will be met.
What Parents Can Do
- Let go!
I know this may sound harsh, but it’s incredibly necessary. Quit trying to fix your child! You, nor any other human, can’t do it. It will come across as inauthentic and your child will sense this and either melt down or lash out. It will be heard as an expectation.
- Believe in a higher power.
Since parents have no one to go to for facilitating self-worth in their children, they must believe that Someone greater than them can do it. This requires trust….after letting go. When I was boxing recently, the assignment was to hug the boxing bag and stay “afloat” on it. Some boxers had no problem, but I had no hope of doing it myself. When my trainer came by, I asked if he would hold me so I could wrap my legs around the bag. He did, and then kept telling me, “I’ve got you. Don’t worry.” He then asked if I could let go of him. Oh, no! I did for a second, but then I tumbled to the floor. That’s an illustration of how trust is built. A little bit at a time…trust God.
- Trust that Higher Power knows your child better than you.
After all, you didn’t create your child’s life–your Higher Power did. You don’t know him inside and out–your Higher Power does. You don’t know how to tear down defenses–but, your Higher Power does.
When I was counseling after rejection from my First Mother, the counselor asked me to go to a local hospital and ask God to show me what I lost. A nurse friend and I went to the local hospital for children and in gown and mask, I asked God what I’d missed. Nothing happened. No great revelation. Just sadness that the ICU babies have to go through such trauma. On the way home, I started crying. Because the tears were so intense, I pulled over to the side of the road. A word and a phrase came to mind. The word was “jewel,” and the phrase was “on the day you were born.” Being an avid Bible student, I rushed home to look in my concordance. I found it in Ezekiel 16: 4-5: “On the day you were born, you were thrown out into an open field. But, I saw you there….and I said, ‘Live, thrive, like a plant in the field. And, you did. You became a jewel among jewels.”
I can still remember where I was sitting on the floor when I read this verse. After I read it, scales fell off my eyes and I could see how precious my life is to God. No one could have ever done this for me. Notice how much He knew about the day I was borne. It is all so incredibly true.
God knows your child as well. In a way that your child can understand, He will bring thoughts, feelings, impressions, truths to mind that he never sought out. He will make it clear that He’s the Heavenly Hound who’s been with him all along.
Your child’s story isn’t like mine, nor should it be. Each adopted child is unique. Trust God to know the unique of his story. So, humbly realize each morning that you have no control over your child’s self-esteem. But, your Higher Power does. Trust, my friends.