What Scared My Adoptive Parents

How sad I am that on homecoming day at ten days of age, Retha (Mom) and Mike (Dad) momentarily lost their confidence, giving in to fear. When Mike handed tiny me to Retha, I arched my back and screamed bloody murder. I’ve since learned that whenever a baby arches it’s back, it means it is in a lot of pain. Not only was there the pain of being unwanted and unplanned, but the pain of inexplicable loss that kept me from eating. I’m sure the nurses were good, but how often was I touched during those first ten days? To this day, I startle when someone touches me unexpectedly. Actually, this mound of newborn suffering  created in me a cry print, which is akin to a fingerprint. It expresses the unique need of the one who is crying. Mine was,  “I lost my mama whom I loved with all my heart. Where is she? Where did she go? I’m going to die without her.”

Who can even imagine how Retha felt? Perhaps, like a bucket of ice water was thrown on her? She probably shook in shock, like anyone when something unfathomable happened. Where was Mike? Was he holding her close? Knowing him for a lifetime, he was probably running for the back bedroom. And, there Retha was. All alone. No one to help her, no one who had the presence of mind to hold her close, even my grandmother. It would be easy for her to read rejection into my screams. “Maybe my baby doesn’t like me, or maybe I’m not suited to be this baby’s Mom. If I were, Sherrie would have snuggled into my welcoming arms immediately. She would have known my inexplicable love for her.  But, this instance is proof that I am not enough to meet my child’s needs.”  

Note that this unpleasant moment didn’t have a permanent effect on me, but it sure made for a challenging homecoming day. 

Best wishes to you as you interpret your child’s cry print. I encourage you to check out a special FB page dedicated to these challenging dynamics. Look for WHAT PARENTS CAN DO WHEN ADOPTED KIDS REJECT LOVE.

Sherrie Eldridge



photo of man looking on child

Cheat Sheet for Talking Adoption

Adoptive parents often ask me, “When should we tell our child she is adopted?” My answer is always–“From day one.” Day one if your child is a newborn, day one if your school aged child’s parents are killed in a wreck and you’re entering kinship adoption, and day one if your teen’s only parent is placed permanently in jail.

I remember being at an event one time and a social worker was “babysitting” a teen who had just been removed from her home. Instead of introducing the teen authentically to me, she chit-chatted in an irritating way. When I got time with the teen, I addressed what had just happened to her with the loss of permanency. This girl needed to know that someone wasn’t afraid to talk about the raw stuff and that she wasn’t alone in her pain. I’m not praising myself, but praising the need of every wounded child to hear truth.

Telling your child about adoption is the number-one fear of adoptive and foster parents…most anyway. “I don’t want to hurt my child any further than what she’s already experienced. Besides, if I talk about the raw realities, maybe I’ll do it wrong and come across as a bumbling idiot?”

Is it possible that this parental fear is stronger than speaking in public? No matter the strength of the fear, it needs to be validated and normalized. You are not alone parents and you are in good company. You can do this, and do it well.

The following is taken from TWENTY THINGS ADOPTED KIDS WISH THEIR ADOPTIVE PARENTS KNEW.  I am pleased to share that this classic is now available in audio.

Getting Ready to Talk

What comes to mind when you think about initiating a conversation with your child about his birth family? Do you feel defensive, like the birth family is the enemy to be avoided at all  costs? Do you feel sad, and does your lip begin to quiver at the thought of their possible presence in your child’s life? Do you fear your child will love them more than he loves you? If so, this section is especially for you. Kids are experts at reading body language. You can’t pull the wool over their eyes. If you are upset about something and trying to hide it, they will sense it.

In order to converse with your child productively about the issues closest to his heart, you must first develop a healthy attitude about the impact of adoption on the family system. Sociologist and author H. David Kirk, in Shared Fate,  suggests five common attitudes adoptive parents tend to hold about how adoption impacts the family:

1) Insistence: All problems are due to adoption. There is a great deal of emphasis between biological and adopted children: the “bad seed.”

2) Assumption: Parents have a romanticized view of adoption and expect the adoptee to have only positive feelings about adoption.

3) Acknowledgment: Adoption is seen as one of the factors in family problems. Family members have special sensitivities about adoption.

4) Rejection: Parents admit, “Yes, there’s a difference, but…” (want to forget it). They forget that the child feels the difference and needs permission to voice his feelings.

5) Denial: Parents have not told children about adoption. There is a big secret in the family.

Of course, acknowledgment is the most healthy attitude. We can’t blame all family problems on adoption, but it is important to help the adoptee see what part adoption plays in the fabric of his life.  

There are certain things you can do to prepare yourself for drawing your child into a productive conversation about his birth family.

Face Your Greatest Fear

The first thing you as an adoptive parent must do is face your greatest fear, which is being rejected by your child. You may envision your child reuniting with his birth parents someday and then wanting nothing more to do with you. If so, you would return to that lonely place of barrenness once again. 

The truth is, what is likely to happen at reunion is just the opposite of what you fear. Nevertheless, you may feel flooded with a torrent of emotions you never knew existed. Jealously and envy.  Anger…even rage.  A sense of betrayal by the one you held closest to your heart over the years. 

The empathetic ear of a friend, professional counselor, or an adoption support group can help you through these tough times. That person should be someone who has already faced and worked through her own pain and is not afraid of yours. When you have come through to the other side, you will be able to be truly in tune emotionally with your child.

Give Permission for Open Dialogue

Parents must remember that adoptees need permission repeatedly to talk about the birth family. It is like their “permission button” is broken; your words can go in one ear and out the other.

Adoptive mom Kathy Giles believes that this continual permission-giving is a signal to the adoptee that her myriad questions and feelings are okay. She says, “I find adoptees sense the ‘okay-ness’ of wanting to know about their birth parents from their adoptive parents. The parents must signal that they understand, empathize, and will, in fact, help make it possible for their children to connect with their first set of parents. To adoptive parents, I say, don’t kid yourself, saying ‘I wouldn’t want to know.’ Ask instead, ‘What would/will my child want and need?'”

Here are some suggestions–a cheat sheet– for signaling “okay ness”:

  • toddler: use play situations and talk about a baby bear that couldn’t find his mama and papa bear
  • school age: make a cardboard house, as shown on this post, and play knock-knock. At one point, say you’re the birth mommy coming for the child’s birthday party.
  • teenage: use physical changes as springboards for conversations: “I wonder if your birth dad had pimples like you when he was in high school>’
  • adult: use a fresh copy of TWENTY THINGS ADOPTED KIDS WISH THEIR ADOPTIVE PARENTS KNEW. You read first and put all your reactions around the margins. Then, share with your child. This has been a proven ice-breaker, even in residential care.

Why I’m “Pro-Adoption”

I am 100% pro-adoption. In order to communicate this, I’m using two words: relinquishment and adoption. When the First Mother signs off parenting rights, the term “relinquished” is apropos. This word refers to pre-adoption pain and trauma. However, when your child is placed, this is adoption, and it is positive, for it provides a forever home for an orphaned child. Of course, there are bad actors amongst adoptive and foster parents. But, adoption itself is positive. Adoption doesn’t mean a certain set of societal professions arrange it, but instead, it means that the homeless child is legally placed in a home where parenting is provided. For example, the adoption can be a lawyer(s) arranging the legalities, family members stepping up to parent, or foster parents adopting through DCS.

Yes, the existing systems are filled with brokenness and fraud, but do we need to throw the baby out with the bathwater? Some encourage completely doing away with adoption. Really? Do away with the homes orphaned kids receive? They say that it’s the “painful part” of adoption they want to eliminate, but can we eliminate the realities of life itself?

Some advocate eliminating adoption, but are they understanding what that really means? Do they have any idea how that thought might impact those that entered their family through adoption. Are they not chipping away at the tender self worth of many adoptees? This concerns me.

What must be understood is that there is a difference between adoption and relinquishment. Dr. Ron Nydam was the first to pioneer this understanding decades ago. Newer generations must embrace it.

Here are some definitions:

  1. Adoption: 

Define: The action or fact of legally taking another’s child and bringing it up as one’s own, or the fact of being adopted.

Synonyms: assumption, assuming, taking on, acquiring, acquisition, affecting, affectation, espousal, advocacy, promotion, appropriation, arrogation, selection, choosing, choice, voting in, election, electing, naming, nominating, nomination, designation, designating, appointment, appointing

  1. Relinquishment:

Define: Voluntarily cease to keep or claim; give up.

Synonyms: renounce, give up, part with, give away, hand over, turn over, lay down, let go of, waive, resign, abdicate, yield, cede, surrender, leave, resign from, stand down from, bow out of, walk out of, retire from, give up, depart from, vacate, pull out of, abandon, abdicate
discontinue, stop, cease, give up, drop, desist from.

Personally, I am grateful that I was adopted. Without it, I probably wouldn’t be here. There are many other adoptees that would agree. When I look at adoption, I remember that in the midst of the brokenness and evil is God’s promise to “work all things together for the good of those who love Him and live according to His plan.” We all groan in the brokenness but have much to look forward to–our Heavenly Home with Jesus.


Adoptees Suffer Phantom Pain

Adoptive and foster parents, would you consider the possibility of phantom pain in regard to your adopted child’s relinquishment wound? A great example of an amputee with phantom pain is Amy Purdy, the Olympian whose legs were amputated from the knees down. The location of pain for an amputee is the body, brain, and spirit. The amputee’s pain feels like shooting, stabbing, cramping, pins and needles. Just recently, Amy underwent another surgery and vividly describes the reality of phantom pain that feels like it’s coming from her lower legs. It’s like they’re still there. Imagine yourselves approaching Amy? What would you say? Would you ask if she could still feel them, even though they’re gone?  What questions would you ask?

Like Amy or wartime amputees, your child lost a living part of herself–the living, DNA connection to the beloved First Mother and Father. First Mother was the Sun and the Moon. The First Father was the safe Home we always would long for. Even though we’re mad as hell at them for going on with life without parenting us, we still love them. The adopted child’s pain shoots like pins and needles on birthdays, entering new situations, and feelings of not belonging in the adoptive family.

Even though adopted or foster children may not act like they miss the First Mother or Father, somewhere, deep down, they do.  It is there, parents, even though you can’t witness its presence or influence. Many adopted children believe the First Mother and Father are still there, living  in a castle far away. These fantasies may serve as transitional objects, just like a binky or little blanket. They help the adoptee stay connected with the First Mother, who then stays alive inside that fantasy. (Please check out my book: FOREVER FINGERPRINTS: An Amazing Discovery for Adopted Children. (https://www.amazon.com/Forever-Fingerprints-Amazing-Discovery-Children/dp/0972624430)

Take a deep breath, parents. What if you shared the concepts from this post about adoptee phantom pain with your adopted/foster child? Not right now, but when the time seems opportune? Would you be too scared to share? Would you be able to self-regulate into new awareness of your child’s relinquishment pain?Would you be tongue tied? Remember, that your child is already suffering, even though he may not realize it or speak about it. Your child suffered this amputation long before you laid eyes on her. You see, most of us adoptees literally ache for reunion with First Parents, if only we could see their faces, maybe we wouldn’t feel adopted anymore, or maybe all life’s issues would disappear?

I am going to make this bold statement and you are welcome to disagree. ALL adopted and foster children have amputee pain, even though it may not seem so for many decades. Bessel Van Der Kolk, M.D. helps us to understand how shutting down in the present comes about in his epic book, THE BODY KEEPS THE SCORE: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma. He states, “…trauma is expressed not only in fight or flight but also as shutting down and failing to engage in the present.”

Your child is delicate and defensive. Is it any wonder? If you’d suffered amputation, you would be, too. Yes, you may have suffered the loss of unborn babies and infertility…but this different, and even if you did suffer those losses, we expect you’ll do your own work before you meet us. That’s the least we can ask of you.

Parents, I’d like to propose these ideas for recognizing your child’s amputee pain:

  1. Remember your child suffered amputation before you ever entered the scene.
  2. The First Parents are much alive in your child’s brain, soul, and body.
  3. Your child is defensive because the pain is unapproachable. 
  4. Your child is a hero for living with such pain.
  5. Bring a rose in honor of your child’s First Parents when child is feeling the pain.

When you meet adoptees, we’ve just come from a funeral. (Credit: Rebecca Vahle)…And you want to celebrate?

Please don’t?

Using Anger to Overcome Life's Obstacles

What Made Me A Kick-Ass Adoptee

Adoptees and foster kids have every right to be angry. We’ve been kicked around, abandoned, misrepresented, ignored, shunned, marginalized, orphaned, and sent away with few belongings in a black trash bag. 

Hell yes, adoptees are angry! Excuse my French…I’m just a veteran adoptee, finally free from anger’s choking grip, and ready to hunt bear on behalf of my fellow adoptees and foster kids who believe that their anger might be a life sentence.

Up until now, most adoptees have believed there’s no hope for resolving overwhelming and uncontrollable anger issues. They accept “I’m just an angry person” misbelief.  Many adoption agencies hid the topic of our anger, hoping eager, naive, prospective parents won’t find out about it before homecoming day. Truth be told, the majority of adoptive and foster parents are terrified of adoptee anger, for they can’t spank it away, teach it away, woo it away, or love it away. It’s no wonder adoptees haven’t learned to find freedom from anger issues. The solution wasn’t in sight.

However, I’ve found the solution and am leading the pack toward freedom for anyone that wants to follow. Stick with me, okay? Hold on tight, grip the saddle, and prepare for a ride you never knew existed. As you might have surmised, this will not be a feel-good read. No warm fuzzies or heart shaped emojis. No steaming bedtime tea and cookies. 

What I’d like to share today? Anger is a gift, not a curse.

For parents: Validating anger helps your child develop deeper self-awareness.

And…adoptee anger must be validated. Parents, jump in here…ask your child about the following anger items:

  1. I have a right to be angry.
  2. We’re all angry because we’re all hurt.
  3. It’s not our fault.
  4. My first family kicked me to the side of the road and went on with life.
  5. My parents don’t “get it.”
  6. Crude comments are true expressions of my identity.
  7. My non-adopted friends aren’t as angry as me.
  8. I don’t belong in either family–first or adoptive.
  9. I’m not aware of my anger most of the time, but others are.
  10. Will i ever get control of my anger?
  11. Is there any hope for me? 

Write to me here, fellow adoptees!