The Power of An Adoptive Mom’s Non-Abandoning Heart

How Adoptive Moms Can Prevent Fears of Abandonment in their Kids With Their Non-Abandoning Heart

Looking back on my life as an adopted person, I am certain that my Mom gifted me with a non-abandoning heart:

  • I will do everything possible to connect with my child
  • I will still love her even when she rejects me
  • I will love unconditionally, knowing her back story
  • I will love her even though I am afraid
  • I will love her by telling her the truth about her backstory.
  • I will keep loving her even though I receive no love in return.
  • I will go to my grave knowing I’ve done my absolute best for her.

That rare gift of a non-abandoning heart can be illustrated by this story about a forest ranger who was surveying the results of a forest fire in California. 

All the mighty redwoods were but an ash heap. 

Kicking his way through the ashes, he came upon a mysterious clump, which he kicked to the side. Immediately, baby chicks scurried out from their dead mama’s body.

What a mom she was to those scurrying chicks…and what a mom my mom was to me…her scurrying chick.

What Moms Can Do

  1. Place A Bandaid

Place a bandaid over your heart. No one will know it is there but you. Every time you see the bandaid, remember your profound wound and speak a few affirmations over yourself:

  • I am deeply loved.
  • I am this child’s mom and no one can ever take my place.
  • Even though my child can’t receive my love, it won’t be lost.
  • I am more than enough to meet my child’s need for a good mom.

  1. Envision Your Survivor Scar

Enjoy these quotes about scars:

  • Every scar tells a story–a story that you survived.
  • Scars are like battle wounds–they show off what you’ve been through and how strong you are.
  • Scars are proof of healing.
  • Every scar I have makes me who I am.
  1. Good Books. Audio versions ideal:
  • Book: WISE ADOPTIVE PARENTING: When Kids Struggle to Adopt Their Parents, by Ronald J. Nydam. Ron is my friend, colleague, therapist, pastor, and author. He’s worked with adoptive families for years and is savvy about the disconnect between kids and parents.
  • Book:  KEEP THE DOORS OPEN: Lessons Learned from A Year of Foster Parenting, 2019, by Kristin Berry. Moms, you will love this irresistible book by my friend, Kristin Berry. Her writing is engaging and powerful. You’ll end up edified. Available in audio.
  • Web Site: Confessionsofanadoptiveparent.com. You won’t believe the plethora of services they have for adoptive and foster parents. Best I’ve seen.
  • Book: 20 THINGS ADOPTED KIDS WISH…A Daily Devotional for Adoptive Parents, by Sherrie Eldridge. Available on Kindle.

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Helping Adopted Kids Feel Safe Amidst Coronavirus

The Power of Tents for Adopted and Foster Kids

In the midst of the Coronavirus crisis, I’m thinking about adoptive parents of kids with special challenges, such as ADHD and attachment-disordered. You’re all home…together.

As you scramble to find a new normal for the family, for sure the kids can sense any panic, fear, anger you have, which is totally understandable. Never in any of our lifetimes–parents or children–has there been such a crisis.

It’s such a basic need of adopted kids to have connection, with you, friends, and other family members. But, we’re all called to social distancing, which may be incredibly difficult for adopted kids.

I’m going to share three ideas here that speak to this need. I’m hesitant to share, for it seems terribly simplistic and I’m sure you’ve all not only heard about it but also used it from time to time.

When I was a child, an only child, I found ways to feel safe when lonely, scared. or overwhelmed. My parents didn’t teach it–it simply evolved inwardly from my deep need to feel safe.

So what did I need to be safe from?

  • Sensory Triggers. These activated extreme acting-out behaviors (punching my fist through the refrigerator door).
  • Overwhelming Disappointment. My parents seemed more interested in meeting their own needs, when I needed them. Dad would sit smoking himself to death in front of the blaring TV, and mom plucked her eyebrows incessantly. How I wanted us to connect, but that didn’t happen much.
  • Physical Trauma Responses. I have always been cold and I believe with Bessel van Der KOLK says in his bestseller, THE BRAIN KEEPS THE SCORE. He says, “Trauma doesn’t surface in memories, but in reactions.”

As I began recording thoughts, common elements surfaced from each activity that may be of interest to you:

  • In the midst of chaos. As you probably already know, most adopted and foster kids are terrified of abandonment, so this keeps them safely in sight of parents right in the center of activity.
  • In a designated place. I can’t tell you how many times as a kid that I went to the places where I chose to find comfort. I will share that in a moment.

Remember, of course, that I don’t speak for all adoptees and foster kids. Each is unique with their own story to tell. I welcome other adoptees to share their safe places here so that adoptive and foster parents can benefit from your wisdom.

The first idea of helping your adopted child feel safe is the suggestion of building a tent.

  1. Suggest Building A Tent

When young, I’d build a tent over mom’s 4 X4 card table with layers of sheets and blankets… right in the middle of the dining room.

I still remember how much fun it was constructing it and then entering. There’s just something that makes me feel safe under a roof-like thing over me. Would you believe, even now, I craft my sheets at night to go over my head.

Of course, being a dollie lover, I’d take two or three into the tent so that I could take care of them. Plastic feeding bottles and also room for their bed and blanket.

Being right in the middle of the living probably assured me that I wouldn’t be abandoned–perhaps by my parents.

I know what you’re thinking, parents. “I’d never abandon my child.” Even though that is true, your child may not know it on a consistent basis. After all, he believes his first parents abandoned him/her. Times of crisis may temporarily erase our object permanence.

It felt so warm and cozy and safe in there. I loved it and would have kept it up permanently….but mom didn’t agree.

2. Encourage Designating A Specific Place to Curl Up, or Be Contained





There's something about curling up and/or 
being contained that makes many adopted and
 foster kids feel safe. It may be under a
 stack of pillows, in an empty drawer, 
under the stairs,
 or in a tight corner. 

It's that fetal position...perhaps remembering 
our time in our first mom's womb?

I had a clinical depression at 
age 40 and was put in the lock-down unit, 
and when my family left and the steel doors 
closed behind them, I ran to open the door. 

I pushed on the steel door,
 only to be told it wouldn't open. 
I ran to a nearby couch and curled up 
in a fetal position.

Mom and Dad owned a modest bungalow house and back in the day, registers were placed in the wall. Their register was in a cozy little place in-between the a room divider in the dining room and next to their Duncan Fife blonde dining room furniture.

I loved it there. Again, it was in the midst of all that occurred. That close space and the constant heat was incredibly comforting.

Heat continues to be my “go to.” As I write this post, a small room heater blows heat on my feet:-)

Remember, adoption is a lifelong journey:-)

That register became my place and I’d not be able to count how many hours I spent there, right up until the time I left home for college.

3. Sleep Under A Weighted Blanket

Weighted blankets make you feel like you’re being held closely. The brand of mine is Hiseem.

And so, adoptive and foster parents, along with fellow adoptees and foster kids, let me know how your child finds comfort, and adoptees, please share your thoughts here.

Press on, my friends. We will all make it through the crisis.

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Ending the Unwanted War Between Adoptees and Their Moms

Why Does My Adopted Kid Hate Me?

It used to be that being in my mom’s presence was like running long fingers over a blackboard. There was a war going on between us–a war neither of us wanted, but one that we couldn’t escape.

It’s scary, like climbing Everest without ropes. It’s also lonely, as most moms don’t know that this is a common dynamic. The challenge is to accept the fact that some relationships in life are non-intentional, unplanned, unpremeditated, or unconscious and that the world of adoption is filled with these relationships.

However, this reality is rarely made public. It’s kind of a secret, or a hot potato amongst those touched by adoption. Put yourself in the shoes of an adoption professional arranging an adoption. Would she/he have the courage to share this unwanted relationship? Would she ruin the adoption with such knowledge? What would he/she say if the parents returned four years later reporting that their child has out-of-control anger? Would she/he have any answers for the distraught parents?

This mom/child adversarial dynamic must be clarified and normalized for the sanity of the majority of adoptive and foster moms. Someone must validate the wounds adoptive moms suffer from rejecting children. Someone must verbalize that adopted children wonder what’s wrong with them. Why the intense anger? Is there a biological tie to an unknown relative?

How I wish mom and I would have known that the unwanted, excruciating war between us could end. Mom was at such a disadvantage, for nothing back in the day, absolutely nothing was discussed amongst those adopting or the institutions that carried it out.

Anger was the last thing I would choose today as my part in the mother/child relationship, and I’m sure my mom wouldn’t choose to feel fearful and inadequate. We both would choose that ultra-loving mother/child relationship, where no words are needed and where we could gaze into one another’s eyes, knowing we’re loved. It would be a relationship where we could savor hugs and girl-busting laughs. A world of truth telling and healthy boundaries.

Nancy Verrier grabbed the hot potato in 1993 when she wrote her 1993 best-selling book titled THE PRIMAL WOUND: Understanding the Adopted Child. She validated the adoptee wound and ever since, adoptees have dog-eared pages, quoted it, and carried it around, like Linus with his security blanket. 

And, rightly so. This indeed, is the adoptee’s “aha book.” In essence, it says, “Yes, it hurts like h__l to lose your first family. Yes, you have a right to be angry. Yes, your cry is  heard.”

Even though Ms. Verrier brought the first healing step of validation to adoptees, many are stuck in that phase. We are stuck moaning about the repercussions of adoption. We just can’t remain in that sadness and brokenness forever. It’s time to move on.

The majority of people in the world of adoption give kudos to Ms. Verrier, including me. She’s led us miles, but now it’s time to move on toward next steps for healing adoptee anger and how it affects  the mother/child relationship.

Please know that I am just an old adoptee who is finally free of the angry chains that held me and I declare that healing is possible for adoptee anger that pulled mom and me apart for decades.

As a veteran in the world of adoption and as an author, I thought I’d written every book I ever wanted to. However, radical things began happening within me that seemed worthy to share for the benefit of adoptive and foster moms, and kids of all ages. 

I must warn you that this post will not be a feel-good read. No warm fuzzies or heart-shaped emojis. No steaming bedtime tea and cookies. After all, many of you are desperate for hope, right? Hope that you’ll be enough for your child? Hope that your child can heal from his painful past?

Hard, gut-wrenching, instrospective work is required for healing. What I will share here is the narrow path, the secret ingredient, the key that opens the possibility of healing for every relationship–forgiveness. 

How I wish mom and I knew about what will be shared . We would have been freed from the war between us and enjoyed an intimate parent/child relationship that only comes from tough self-examination of both child and parent.

The path I took looks like this:

  • We hurt
  • We hate
  • We heal ourselves
  • We come together again

Let’s add here that not all adoptees and moms experience a strained relationship. There’s no evidence of adoptee angst. Instead, there’s an openly loving relationship. This is often attributed to level of resilience, DNA, brain development in utero. Babies that are told during by first moms that they were loved during the intimate nine months of life, are sure to begin life as an adoptee with a sure foundation. Just ask Dr. Thomas Verney, MD, and author of THE SECRET LIFE OF THE UNBORN CHILD. 

Parents, if your child displays no angst, remember all that he/she experienced. That can’t be buried. Your child will have to process it someday. So, enjoy the love, but realize that it may be a defense against being further rejected…by you.

You are not alone, moms, in the stressful relationship with your adopted child. There are many engaged in the war with children, but let me assure you that the war can end. 

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What’s With The Silly Cap, Randall?

What's Up With the Ski Cap, Randall?

I couldn’t believe it when This Is Us’s Randall wore a ski cap to the event that Kevin took their mom to!

Of course, he and Kevin were in an all-out battle about who could take better care of their aging mom, as dementia set in.

The scene of Kevin taking his mom to the gala event provided the first glimpse of Randall’s cap. In the midst of Hollywood elites, Randall snuck in, uninvited. Could that be why he wore the silly cap? Did he think he was hiding and no one could see him?

Then, suddenly, when Kevin leaves mom for a couple of minutes and she becomes disoriented in a conversation, Randall appears like Superman to help her…without his cap.

The next scene, when Kevin returns to his mom’s side, there is a stark contrast between the faces of he and his brother. Kevin’s face became sadder and sadder and the emotional bond and shared DNA became clear.

Randall’s face showed no emotion except anger. Why? He is determined that only he has the right answers for their mom’s future. He will do anything to take good care of her.

I wonder if this is a common behavior for adopted adults. I remember back to when my mother suddenly dropped dead of a heart attack and I couldn’t even cry at her funeral because I was so worried about dad. BTW: I was an only child.

Another possible interpretation of Randall’s tenacity was that he sensed he was losing his mom and connection with her was all that he knew. Oh, no…he’d already lost his first mom…now a second?

Another thought about the cap is that Randall may see himself as in a battle–for his mom, but also for himself. And, what do soldiers wear in a battle? A hat to protect their heads.

Randall saw himself in a battle–for his mom, but also himself. You see, many of us adoptees are addicted to connection. We will do anything to maintain it. And, Randall was losing it. How could he survive without the connection to his mom?

Of course, the writers of the mini -series left us all hanging when Randall and Kevin left their mom again…just for a minute.

Upon returning to where she was supposed to be, they didn’t see her.

I guess we’ll all have to stay glued to the tv for next week’s program.

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How Adopted Kids Want Their Parents To Handle Their Pre-Adoption Loss

Why Do Adopted and Foster Kids Grieve Loss?

As an adoptive parent, you may feel uncomfortable, protective, or defensive about the reality of your child’s pre-adoption loss of the first family.  What is an adoptive or foster parent to do about it?

I know this is a difficult subject for many of you. You are not alone. Hopefully, you’ll gain some insights here about how you can help rather than hinder his/her grieving process.

Adoption professional and prolific author, Jayne Schooler, says, “The moment the subject of the adoptee’s woundedness and loss comes up, it’s like a shield goes up and they can’t hear a word you say.” 

Adoptive mother, Ellen Dunaway, says that hearing about adoptee loss just breaks her heart. She can’t bear to think about the fact that her child was and is hurting.

It’s painful to enter into your child’s suffering.  It’s so much easier to assume that all is well inside your child, especially if she hasn’t manifested any obvious problems.

I Am A Grieving Child

The first thing your child wants you to know is this: I am a grieving child.  I came to you because of loss—one that was not your fault and that you can’t erase.

When I was twelve years old, my best friend’s mother died of cancer. I can still remember watching her grieving family follow the casket up the aisle of the church. As the congregation stood, my body began to shake uncontrollably as unwelcome sobs burst forth like an erupting volcano. It was embarrassing, to say the least. After all, it wasn’t my mother who died . . . or was it?

My parents did the best they could to comfort me, but they had no knowledge of how present circumstances can trigger unresolved loss for an adopted child. More than likely they attributed my out-of-proportion sadness to emotionalism and adolescence. Little did they know that I was mourning the mother who carried me for nine months, whose face I never saw, and whose heartbeat was my original source of security.

Granted, my loss was different than that of my friend’s. There was no dead body, no funeral service, and no empty place at the dinner table.

But the loss was just as real nonetheless. 

I Hurt When You Romanticize or Deny My Loss

My parents’ response to my grief was to shield me in the future from anything that would prove upsetting. Therefore, when my grandmother died a few months later, they kept me home from the funeral while the rest of the family attended. I’m sure they believed they were doing the best thing, but just the opposite was true.

My adoption wounds were buried even further beneath a layer of overprotectiveness, which would make me even more determined than ever to keep the grieving part of myself hidden from others. 

My story is not unusual. Most adoptive parents, instead of helping their child to grieve the loss and find closure, deny his past losses and romanticize his adoption.

Instead of  bouquets of flowers and accolades of sympathy, there are romantic clichés that feel like salt in a gaping wound:

  • “You are a chosen child!” 
  • “Be thankful you were picked.
  • Think of all the others who weren’t.”

  What a shame, for denying loss and failing to grieve can keep parents and children at arms’ length instead of in a healthy, invested relationship.

Webster’s defines romanticism as “imbued with or dominated by idealism; fanciful; impractical; unrealistic; starry-eyed, dreamy; head-in-the-clouds; out of touch with reality.” 

Could it be that you have unknowingly been an adoption romanticist all these years? If so, it’s time to pull out the pruning shears and seek truth about adoption on every level. 

I Can Tell When You Are Emotionally Absent

Looking back, I believe my parents were frightened by my emotional vulnerability. Perhaps it triggered their own unresolved issues of grief and loss and feelings of extreme helplessness.

The best thing you can do to help your child is to grieve your own losses which may have occurred prior to adoption—losses such as infertility, miscarriage, stillbirth, or death—and to let yourself feel sad for your child’s losses and your inability to protect him from whatever happened to him prior to joining your family. 

Only then can your adopted child’s losses be validated and then grieved together in an atmosphere of openness and honesty. 

You will be able to say, “We’re sorry too, that you didn’t grow in Mommy’s tummy.”  Or, “We feel sad that we couldn’t be with you in the past to make your world safe and secure.”

Grieving your own losses and facing your child’s opens the door for you to be emotionally in tune with your child, to know his unspoken needs, and to partner with him as he works through his own grief issues. It is the open door to parent-child intimacy.

Once you have successfully grieved the losses in your own life, you will be a “safe person” to your child—one to whom she is free to express any emotion without condemnation or judgment.  You will provide a place brimming with welcoming acceptance, one that encourages conversation about your child’s feelings surrounding adoption. It is within this seedbed of acceptance and grace where healing from unresolved adoption loss occurs and bonding begins. 

Adults adopted as children can find such a place through adoption support groups and trusted therapists.

Listen to the words of one adoptive mother in Naomi Ruth Lowinsky’s book, Stories from the Motherline: Reclaiming the Mother-Daughter Bond. The mother remembers how grieving losses together brought intimacy with her daughter:

  I ached for her, for my beautiful youngest who had never been inside me, never been nursed by me, whose face I did not see when she entered this world. I felt grief for the pregnancy I had not experienced with her, grief for her birth and early months. I felt grief for the empty place in her, left by the birth mother who could not keep her. I understood that my daughter and I needed to feel these things together.

During the next few years, I often spoke to her about these feelings of grief and loss. She would climb onto my lap and her wiry little body would relax in my arms. We spent many hours like this, mourning together, creating a bond out of our feelings of loss.

Without a doubt, this mother and daughter successfully bonded to one another. Their close relationship is similar to what happens when a graft takes hold.  When a graft succeeds in nature, it takes with a vengeance, producing a union at least as strong and often stronger than the rest of the tree.

I Need You To Validate My Pain and Purpose

I believe that one reason many parents don’t validate their adopted children’s pain is because of the pain-avoiding society we all live in.  Just the sound of the word “pain” activates our flight-or-flight response.  After all, doesn’t pain imply an injustice or a failure?  A barrier to our guaranteed right to happiness?

Dr. Paul Brand, a world-renowned surgeon and leprosy specialist, says in his book, The Gift Nobody Wants, that there needs to be education about the origins of pain and its purpose.  “In the modern view pain is the enemy, a sinister invader that must be expelled.  And if Product X removes the pain thirty seconds faster, all the better.  This approach has a crucial, dangerous flaw: once regarded as an enemy, not a warning signal, pain loses its power to instruct.  Silencing pain without considering its message is like disconnecting a ringing fire alarm to avoid receiving bad news.” 

What is needed is an honoring attitude toward pain—an attitude that sees pain as a beloved enemy that beautifies rather than destroys.  Just as an irritating grain of sand can be the catalyst for producing a beautiful pearl within an oyster, so the pain of adoption can become the catalyst for producing a pearl of intimacy between adoptive parents and children.  

Highly respected adoption educator, Marcy Wineman Axness quoted Annette Baran and Wendy McCord in her eloquent booklet, What Is Written On the Heart…Primal Issues in Adoption. “Parents whose children express sadness usually feel that they need to reassure them, rather than feel the sadness along with them.  But having lost an original set of parents is something to feel sad about, and the best any parent can do for a child is to allow them to share those feelings of loss with them. 

While it may seem easier—especially in the beginning—to avoid these uncomfortable feelings, glossing over them with cheerful slogans isn’t the loving choice, for ultimately it deprives both parents and children of genuine intimacy.” 

I Need You To Validate the Depth of My Wound

Keep in mind that my knowledge and research is based mainly on adult adoptees who were damaged by the closed adoption system. Nonetheless, I believe that their experiences teach us that what the majority of adopted children need is validation of their wounding loss. 

A parent might whisper to her adopted infant, “You must miss your birth mommy.  We are sad, too, that you had to lose her.”  “It really hurts, doesn’t it?” is a phrase that can be used by parents in every phase of the adoptee’s life, for it demonstrates empathy and compassion.

Adoptees need to learn to accept their wound as part of their life history—an  unchangeable fact over which they have no control, but which need not cripple them in the future. This is one of the challenges of being adopted which, if accepted, can bring tremendous growth and maturity. 

Dr. Connie Dawson, adoptee,  attachment therapist, and adoption educator says, “When someone told me that I have suffered an irreparable wound, a burden lifted from my shoulders. In all my therapy, no one had ever told me that I couldn’t wrap this one up neat and tidy…couldn’t fix it. Oh yes, I could lay gangplanks over the deepest parts so I wouldn’t be swallowed up in its recesses. I could cauterize the edges to heal the rawness. But I couldn’t fix it, if fixing means I take care of it and it goes away. It doesn’t go away, neither does it have to be the ball and chain around my ankle. It doesn’t have to make me feel I should apologize for who I am. It only means I’ll take care of my own. And I will accept that this wound will continue to instruct me the rest of my life.

I Hope You Put Away False Guilt

Another thing adoptees need is for their adoptive parents to put aside their own false guilt.  Parents who feel guilty are incapable of dropping their defenses and entering into their child’s unresolved pain around the losses that neither parent nor child could prevent. 

It is natural for adoptive parents to struggle with guilt when they hear about their child’s wounds.  Parents tend to search for the ways they could have prevented their child’s trauma, often using the phrase, “If only . . .”

  • If only I had been there at the birth of my child.
  • If only I had known the birth mother earlier and been able to nurture her.
  • If only I had known more about adoption issues and how to handle them.

Any explanation, even at the cost of suffering guilt, may help adoptive parents cope with the desperate sense of helplessness they feel over their child’s suffering.

Cynthia Mohanon, in Children and Trauma, says, “If a parent can find some way in which the trauma was her own fault, it becomes possible to believe that further trauma can be avoided. Guilt offers a kind of power, however illusory, over helplessness.”

Erroneous thinking like this is the seedbed of false guilt and will interfere with the parent/child bond if not recognized and dealt with. 

The most important thing adoptees need is the freedom to express their conflicting emotions without fear of judgment. This is the final step toward healing, the one that brings release and freedom. Psychologist and author Dr. Arthur Janov says in The New Primal Scream, “As children, we need to express our real feelings to our parents.  We hurt if our parents are indifferent.  If they force back our resentment and our rage, we hurt.  We can no longer be ourselves and be natural.  Our nature, therefore, is warped, and that causes pain.  If you don’t let an arm move naturally, if you bind it with tape, it is going to hurt.  If you don’t let emotions move naturally, you get the same result.  The need to express feelings is just as physiological as hunger.”

I Need to Feel Safe with You

Adoptees need a safe place to share their feelings about adoption, both positive and negative, and to feel protected and loved unconditionally regardless of what comes out of their mouths.  As a parent, you can learn how to create this safe environment within your home so that your child is free to express grief and conflicting emotions about being adopted.

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Copyright, 1999, Penguin Random House, Chapter 3: Twenty Things Adopted Kids Wish Their Adoptive Parents Knew, by Sherrie Eldridge