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

Why Adoptive Moms Are Hard On Themselves

Adoptive Moms Must Discover What's Gone Missing

Imagine an adoptive mom hiding behind a velvet curtain backstage in the world of adoption. If I could go backstage to this mom, I would say, “Please come to center stage, not to expose fragility but to shed light on something that’s gone missing in your life.”

 Without a doubt, the mom would resist the spotlight. The spotlight is repugnant, for she darn well doesn’t need any more comments about how brave and special she is to take on challenging children.  Thank you very much. She doesn’t need anyone to validate her loss, for she entered parenting not not to meet her needs, but the needs of her beloved child.

Readers must know that this mom has read every book about the deeper-than-death loss of adopted children and the empty, aching arms of first mothers who have relinquished their children. She not only knows this, but she lives that knowledge in real time.

However, she has a problem. Not with her child. Not with the institution of adoption, but with herself. The problem? She can’t stop knocking herself in regard to her parenting. Every night she goes to bed, unable to sleep because of a litany of failures she believes she’s made with her child.

Little does she know that when she entered parenthood through adoption, a certain phenomena occurred–a phenomena that isn’t talked about in adoption circles. A phenomena that adoption therapists have no knowledge of. A phenomena that encompasses every fiber of her mom being.

Before you call me anti-adoption, let me assure you I’m not. This is in no way a condemnation of the institution of adoption, but instead, a bold affirmation of the unspoken reality and need of many adoptive and foster moms.

This unknown phenomena causes her to be hard on herself. She literally hates herself. and goes to bed every night in tears. She’s filled with such self doubt that she almost always concludes that she doesn’t have what it takes to parent her child. Truth be known, she looks over the cliffs of depression more times than she’d care to admit.

This mom knows that something’s missing. There’s a vacuum in her heart. It is so painful. What could it be? What would take away this vacuum? Maybe a boost of self-confidence or self-esteem? Maybe a Twelve Step program? Maybe counseling?

No, what she really needs is to discover what’s missing, but it’s so illusive. When she tries to put words to it, it’s ambiguous, like jello through her hands.

It’s sobering that she must discover that what’s missing is compassion–not for her child–that’s already there. For heaven’s sake, she forgives a million times a day.

It’s compassion for herself, which is sadly missing. This mom sees herself as a mom, never able to be enough for her child. She bangs herself over the head every time she realizes it, for the reoccurrence are many throughout the day.

What’s gone missing is self-compassion and the ability to forgive herself as much as she forgives others. Her path to freedom is not like her child’s. Her child’s path is to freedom from a painful past. Her path is freedom from her painful self.

Let’s proceed in our understanding about this painful self.


Something’s Gone Missing

What grew in the place of self-compassion was self-condemnation. In fact, everything that comes out of her mouth gushes self-condemnation, like Niagra Falls. She can’t get rid of it, no matter how hard she tries.  

  • I’m a loser mom.
  • I must have a character defect that keeps me feeling crazy.
  • I can’t self-regulate, let alone teach my child to do the same.
  • I don’t have the capacity to attach with my child…and I never will have it.
  • I am inept as a mom.
  • I can’t even decide whether to have a peanut butter sandwich.
  • I’m a mess.
  • I don’t have what it takes.
  • I’m a lousy mom.
  • I hate myself.

Without a doubt, my mom split off into condemnation the first time she held newborn me. Because I refused her touch and comfort, she probably said, “If I were a good mom, Sherrie would ‘take to me’ immediately. But, she didn’t.”

In learning about The Adoptive Mom’s Split (what I’m calling it), it’s not mysterious anymore why the mom in the opening scenario was wrapped in the velvet stage curtain.

Just think with me? Were there actually two moms–the self-compassionate and the self-condemning? And, if there were two moms, what was their relationship with one another? Did they get along, or were they repelled by one another? Was one in the spotlight and another wrapped in the curtain?

Here’s my conclusion: I believe the split of the moms heart illustrates adoption-related loss for adoptive moms. Yes, their child suffered a deeper than death loss. Yes, their child’s first mom suffers aching arms, but yes, we can now identify the loss of adoptive moms as loss of the compassionate self. 

Are you still tracking with me? Let me know your thoughts. below?

The compassionate self is a very precious part of these moms, which must be re-discovered and loved back to life. 

The Newest Kind of Adoption Reunion

Perhaps the mom self who’s center stage needs to find the mom who’s wrapped up in self-condemnation? How about reuniting the two? This is a new kind of adoption reunion, right?

This is all part of us (you and me) plowing new soil in the world of adoption, which is invigorating. In the last post, we named and identified a mom’s primal wound. Now, in this chapter, we’re identifying what I’m naming “The Adoptive Mom Split.” 

Our mission is reunion. Stay with me. Don’t get nervous that I’m going to add to your “to do” list. It won’t be that way. I’m going to challenge you in a way that perhaps you haven’t been challenged in the past.

This won’t be a therapy-based instruction for healing. I’m not a therapist nor do I ever aspire to be. I’m simply an adult adoptee who has found the path to healing from my painful past.

I will outline my process for you in the weeks ahead, with the awareness that we’re all unique and have to adapt to any plan in different ways. 

As moms experience the swallowing up by unconditional love of their self-consuming self, they can expect this:

  • Live as if yesterday’s condemnation is irrelevant.
  • Have the courage to ignore condemning thoughts.
  • Release the person you will be from the shadow of the past condemnation.
  • Walk into tomorrow with guilt gone and positive thoughts for the future.
  • Be embraced by your condemning self.

Only as you walk the path to healing will your child have any framework for her own healing. Don’t interpret this statement as, “You can fix your child and facilitate his healing.” No parent can ever do that. However, you can model and pray, like a wolf hound, for your kid.  And, that is the most powerful tool a parent can ever have.

Understanding the Path to Freedom 

In my journey, I came to the realization that dealing directly with my birth mother and father issues isn’t the way healing occurred for me. I doubt it would work with any adoptee. We’re so guarded.

What happened for me that brought about the beginning of healing was current circumstances. There was a certain person that I hated (and don’t guess that it was my husband because it wasn’t). I hated this person with a vengeance and anger spilled out of me like crazy whenever I talked about him/her. 

Then, what happened is that circumstantially, I couldn’t get away from this person’s influence. I felt like I was painted into a corner.

I didn’t understand what was happening and asked God why it had to happen. Then, I realized that I was experiencing a crisis of forgiveness. I could either forgive the person I hated or go to the local Stress Center for psychotic drugs. There was no other way. This is what many would term “a crisis of forgiveness..”

Looking back, I believe this was the cornerstone of my healing. I needed to forgive the person I hated, but also myself for hating this person.

Miraculous things happened after this that I’ll share with you in upcoming posts.


And, so moms, I’m inviting you to journey with me into your own crisis of forgiveness to rediscover the compassionate you–the you that is confident you’re enough for your child. .I promise you won’t know yourself two years from now. But, for now, what can you do?

What Moms Can Do

Let me share a back story to my love for boxing. For my entire life, I saw myself as a victim…in every area of life, in every relationship.

Learn to Play

While I was working through my steps of forgiveness, I decided to try boxing. Our kids loved it and so I figured it was worth a try.

The first time, I basically threw the bag in opposite directions. That was five years ago. I am still boxing at least three times a week now.

I absolutely love it. The boxing gym is my happy place and I love my fellow boxers.

This has been huge for me. Even though I never would have said, “I’m going to start boxing to discover the real me….the kid in me,” that’s exactly what happened.

Moms, what physical activity can you enjoy or try? There’s nothing like attaining great physical fitness. 

Write Affirmations for Yourself

Of course, you’ll create your own, but these 42 affirmations from @Momalot.com may prompt you. Keep them on your phone where you can easily access them in the carpool line or the dentist’s office. 

  1. I trust my intuition.
  2. I am capable of amazing things if I believe it to be true and act on those feelings.
  3. I am brave and courageous.
  4. I will make the most of today.
  5. In the eyes, mind and heart of my child, I am a good mom. My love and connection helps my child above all else.
  6. I am loved.
  7. All is well. They are well and I am well.
  8. Taking care of myself makes me a better mom. I give myself permission to do something to nurture ME.
  9. I am powerful beyond measure.
  10. Everything is exactly the way it needs to be in order to learn the lessons I need the most.
  11. I am the exact parent my child needs to blossom.
  12. There is peace and love in my home, even in the midst of chaos.
  13. I am grateful for time with my kids today.
  14. My family appreciates and loves me, even when they forget to tell me so.
  15. Today I will let go of the guilt weighing on my shoulders. I am not perfect but I am what my child needs.
  16. Today I will love fiercely, laugh freely and live courageously. I can never get today back.
  17. One bad day does not make me a bad mom. One bad day makes me human.
  18. I am the architect of my life; I build its foundation and choose its contents.
  19. Today I am enthusiastic and full of energy
  20. I forgive those who have harmed me in my past and peacefully detach from them.
  21. A river of compassion washes away my anger and replaces it with love.
  22. My marriage is becoming stronger, deeper, and more stable each day.
  23. I possess the qualities needed to be fully happy.
  24. Creative energy surges through me and leads me to new and brilliant ideas.
  25. Happiness is a choice.
  26. My ability to conquer my challenges is limitless; my potential to succeed is infinite.
  27. I am courageous and I stand up for myself.
  28. My thoughts are filled with positivity and my life is plentiful with prosperity.
  29. Today, I abandon my old habits and take up new, more positive ones.
  30. Many people look up to me and recognize my worth; I am admired.
  31. I am blessed with an incredible family and wonderful friends.
  32. I acknowledge my own self-worth; my confidence is soaring.
  33. Everything that is happening now is happening for my ultimate good.
  34. I am a powerhouse; I am indestructible.
  35. Though these times are difficult, they are only a short phase of life. This too shall pass.
  36. Today and every day I am enough.
  37. I radiate beauty, charm, and grace.
  38. My obstacles are moving out of my way; my path is carved towards greatness.
  39. I wake up today with strength in my heart and clarity in my mind.
  40. My fears of tomorrow are simply melting away.
  41. I am at peace with all that has happened, is happening, and will happen.
  42. My life is just beginning.

Moms, I do hope you’ll stick with me in this journey toward forgiveness. I’m asking you to pull away from things you don’t have to do and find both the compassionate you and the condemning you.

Others may not understand your journey, but does that really matter? When you’re on a path to healing, it’s a done deal that others won’t understand. 

I assure you that our journey together will be well worth your time and effort. I love you and i’m cheering  you on. 

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Validating The Profound Wound of Adoptive Moms

Validation of The Adoptive Mom's Profound Wound

Moms, when you considered adopting, you wanted nothing more than to become a safe haven of love for your child, but instead, without either you nor your child desiring it, unresolved adoptee anger bonded you together in a seemingly impossible situation.

It was that way for my mom and me. She wanted to pour love into me from day one when my maternal grandmother brought me home on adoption day. After Dad held me and declared that “you were so tiny, I could hold you in the palm of one hand,” he handed me off to mom.

Immediately, my ten-day old body arched and cried bloody murder. I’m sure mom was aghast. How could she pour love into this defiant child? She had no idea that I was trying to communicate in the only way I knew that I just lost the love of my life–my birth mom. 

It’s likely that you’ve heard no one talk about this tumultuous, anger-driven relationship between many moms and adopted kids. Without pointing a finger, consider being an adoption agency professional arranging an adoption. Would you not put the upcoming adoption in jeopardy if you shared the possibility of an adversarial relationship between mom and child? And, how could you comfort naive parents who are now experiencing it in real time? 

What message have adoptive and foster parents received? Because there was likely no affirmation of the possibility of this kind of relationship developing, parents were terrified of adoptee anger, for they can’t spank it away, teach it away, woo it away, or love it away. 

And, adoptees fear their tiger-like anger originates from a hidden character flaw, possibly from a missing generation. If they hear others talking about “the bad gene,” they’re secretly paranoid.

This transparency is new territory,  just being plowed as you read this book. I’m  an old adoptee, finally free from anger’s choking grip, and ready to announce that this painful situation between moms and kids is not impossible to heal. 

As you may know, I’m 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 in my life that seem worthy to share. 

Alien thoughts flooded my mind, but at the same time, the last two years have been almost like waking up from surgery, where you vaguely hear the recovery room nurse’s voice in the distance. 

Maybe my brain chemistry changed. You hear all these things 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.

Let me give examples of the unexplainable thought reversals. 

Junk Became Treasure

One day I thought about mom’s wedding rings. Why? I carried them for 53 years without a thought, from geographical move to geographical move, and considered them pieces of junk. Tarnished beyond belief, with all the diamonds missing, I wondered why I hadn’t thrown them away.

However, now I quickly pawed through my messy and overcrowded jewelry box to see if they were still there. Oh, my goodness, they were, lying beneath my custom jewelry.

Why would I be searching for my late mom’s wedding rings when we had a tumultuous relationship? And, yet, the thoughts kept coming. What was it like on the evening that 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? 

With hands shaking, I put the rings on my tarnished rings on my finger and ran into my husband Bob’s office to show them off, like a kid. Just a month ago, while eating pizza at our favorite restaurant, he pulled out a small box. He’d gotten them refurbished without my knowledge. I wear them to this day.

Not only did my junk become treasure, but my painful memories became pleasant.

Painful Memories Became Pleasant

As I shared earlier, the relationship between mom and me was stressful beyond belief for most of my growing up years. Being in her presence was like running long, manicured fingernails over a black board.

But suddenly, is this turn of events inside me, the negativity disappeared and I saw mom’s care for me in a new light. I could smell her best-in-town apple pie, feel her hands gently rubbing oil on my asthmatic chest, and see her carry for Dinny Dinwit, my cat.

The change in memories went all the way back to adoption day.  When the caseworker brought me through the front door, she couldn’t help but fall in love. It was at that moment that one of her rarest gifts surfaced—her non-abandoning heart.

She would reverse the script of abandonment to one of safety and belonging. She would love this baby with every fiber of her being.

And so, over the span of a lifetime, mom gifted me, even though I didn’t realize it until it was too late.

Mom dropped over dead of a heart attack when I was only 36. Because she and dad were in Florida, we rushed to Dad’s side. I’ll never forget how they loaded her casket into the jet three days later.

Mom gifted me with the non-abandoning heart over the years by living by these legacy markers:

  • 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 back story.
  • 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. She refused to leave her offspring even though fire raged around her.  She accomplished her life’s mission and legacy of gifting her babies with a non-abandoning heart.

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

And so, moms, I offer the truths that brought me freedom, not claiming exclusive rights or guaranteed positive outcomes, but simply with the hope that you will be encouraged to press on.

This post is a wake-up, hope-drenched, revolutionary strategy for healing the adversarial relationships between adoptees and moms. 

Without a doubt, your level of fatigue is off the charts and I don’t want you to feel like these 20 strategies are one more thing you must do. Far from it. Read a few pages, or even just one, even if you have to seclude yourself from screaming kids in the bathroom.

I promise to meet you there but I must warn you that this book will not be a feel-good read. No warm fuzzies or heart-shaped emojis. No steaming bedtime tea and cookies. After all, you’re desperate for hope, right? And, I’m desperate to give it.

Let’s lay the historical groundwork from the world of adoption that will enable us to be thrilled about participating in such pioneering work with your adopted child. 

Adoptees love the seminal work of  Nancy Verrier in her best-selling book THE PRIMAL WOUND: Understanding the Adopted Child. Verrier’s wisdom teaches that without acknowledging and validating deep wounds, healing can’t begin. 

Since publication more than twenty years ago, many adoptees have dog-eared it’s pages, quoted it, and carried it around, like a security blanket. 

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

However, twenty years later, many adoptees are stuck in the validation phase of healing. The majority are stuck in tumultuous relationships, rage, and passive hate. We don’t know if there’s any next steps that we may take to be free of our painful past.

The majority of people in the world of adoption give kudos to Ms. Verrier, including me. But, it’s time to move on toward healing for your adopted child and your relationship with him/her. 

It’s time for you to have your own “aha book,” don’t you think? Time to have your deep wounds validated, time to bring you into contact with other moms with similar experiences, and time to gain hope that your child can heal from the adversarial relationship with you….which by the way, you don’t deserve. But, we’ll talk more about those dynamics in next posts.

Validating the Profound Mom Wound 

Not only must you understand the depth of your child’s wound, but also your own. Rejection from your own beloved child hurts. I don’t pretend to understand, but I do know what it feels like to be rejected by your first mom. 

Not only did she send me away after birth, not wanting to know anything about me, but she rejected me twenty years ago when we were reunited. What began as a fairy-tale reunion ended in gut-wrenching rejection.

When I think about you and your challenging calling as a mom, I remember the story of little Jessica McClure, who fell headlong down an abandoned well shaft in Midland, Texas.  The shaft was only eight inches in diameter and twenty-two feet deep. 

Can you imagine how Jessica’s parents must have reacted? Maybe they couldn’t eat, or refused to? Maybe they slept outside by the excavation site? Maybe out-of-control emotions drove them to a huge dose of valium, or several swigs of whisky?

Finally, after fifteen hours, a highly-trained worker gained access into the shaft, untangled Jessica,  and put her in the arms of her waiting parents, who sobbed uncontrollably, as did a vigilant country. 

Is this not reminiscent of your story too, moms? Your child fell into a deep hole when she lost her first family. You can barely stand to think about what was happening in that hole. If only you could take her place in the hole. You’d gladly offer.

Just like Jessican’s parents, the incredibly frustrating part is that you can’t do anything to help your child. She’s inaccessible. She’s “lost” to you. 

Could it be that this a place in your heart that’s so humbled by your child’s pre-adoption suffering that produces such helplessness that you don’t know quite where to turn or what to do with yourselves? Could this be your primal wound?

Just like Jessica’s hours in the shaft, your child suffered prior to adoption. It may be the orphanage workers who tied her down with ropes onto her bed because she was a “wiggly one.” It may be the suffering of a toddler fried in hot oil by his mother. Or, the pre-birth suffering inflicted by a drug-addicted mom.

Even though many moms may know the particulars of their child’s pre-adoption sufferings, there is still that deep agony in your hearts for the unknown-to-you trauma your child experienced. The part that may shut off access to your child’s heart.

After all, what would they say about the accident to a young child? Would they act like it never happened and that everything was fine now that they had her home again? Would they ask her directly what it was like to hardly be able to breathe in that dark hole? 

Those thoughts have likely entered your mind also. How can I connect meaningfully with such a wounded child?

Thus, we’ve thanked Verrier for her contribution to adoption literature, we’ve verbalized your profound wound as a mom, and now we must push on to the exciting part–the next steps. Next blog!

I love you, moms, and am in your corner.

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The Deadly Secret of Adoptive and Foster Moms

What Adoptive Moms Can Do Instead of Cracking UP

What do many adoptive and foster moms suffer intensely from that they keep secret? What causes them to push themselves to the hilt, unable to think of anything but caring for their child while never caring for themselves?

The answer is Compassion Fatigue, which is a state of extreme distress and preoccupation with the suffering of their adopted children. It is now being called a secondary trauma stress disorder.

This is no small thing. A friend once said that her physician warned that she’d die if she didn’t start taking care of herself.

The first thing that comes to mind when I read the words “Compassion Fatigue” is PTSD–the horrific psychological trauma soldiers experience during and after battle. Adoptive and foster moms aren’t on duty overseas, but they’re at home, battling for the welfare of their adopted and foster kids. They’d do anything for those kids, including being rejected repeatedly by them. They just want their children to thrive, discover, and enjoy the life purpose for which they were created.

Is it really any wonder that adoptive moms suffer from Compassion Fatigue? Research proves that adoptive parents invest more time and financial resources in their children compared to biological parents. The study, by sociologists at Indiana University Bloomington and the University of Connecticut, found that two-parent adoptive parents not only spend more money on their children, but they invest more time, such as reading to them, talking with their children about their problems or eating meals together.  Society often tells people that adoption isn’t normal,” said IUB Professor Brian Powell, who focuses on the sociology of the family. “When people make the decision that they want to have children and then use unusual means to have them, they compensate for the barriers.”   #hexometer-broken-link-repair-https://www.asanet.org/galleries/default-file/Feb07ASRAdoption.pdf.

With this is mind, with the raw reality being exposed, let’s take a close look at Compassion Fatigue, and then learn something new that may encourage beyond belief. You will also be able to take a test to see where you’re at in dealing with Compassion Fatigue.

What Really Causes Compassion Fatigue

What causes compassion fatigue is a boldfaced lie that the enemy of mom souls relentlessly whispers, “You are not enough. Not enough as a mom. Not enough to meet the needs of your adopted child.”

I know for a fact that my Mom (Retha) believed the lie. How could she not have upon learning that her daughter was a failure to thrive baby? How could she not have upon watching her best friend who was a nurse, bathe her baby? How many nights did she cry herself to sleep, wondering why she couldn’t me to eat formula? How many nights did she weep over my loose life style?

This is partly a spiritual battle, moms. If the enemy of your soul can keep you in fear that you’re not enough, discouragement is sure to follow.

Please read this illustration about discouragement: It was advertised that the devil was going to put up his tools for sale. On the day of the sale, the tools were placed for public inspection, each being marked with its sale price. They were a treacherous lot of implements–hatred, envy, jealousy, deceit, pride. Laying apart from the rest was a harmless looking tool, very well worn but priced extremely high. What is the name of this tool, asked one of the shoppers. Ah, said the devil, that is discouragement.

When asked why he priced it so high, he said, “Oh, because it’s more useful to me than all the others. I can pry open and get into a man’s heart with that, and when I’m inside, I can make him do whatever I choose. It’s badly worn because I use it on almost everyone, but few people know it belongs to me.

The devil’s price for discouragement was so high that it was never sold… and, discouragement is still his tool today.

Please note that I’m not saying you have a spiritual problem–I’m saying that lies are often aimed at the most vulnerable part of you–your mothering.

What Characterizes Compassion Fatigue

 When a mom is suffering compassion fatigue, she can’t stop trying to help her child. It’s like banging her head against a brick wall. It hurts, but she can’t stop. This is called repetition compulsion.

This mom may say, “If I try again, surely my child will respond.” And so, these moms operate out of fear. What if I can’t meet my child’s needs? Will he/she have to be sent away to residential care? What if my child keeps lying at school? Will she ever be able to graduate? What if my child is so miserable that he kills himself? What if my daughter won’t quit cutting?

My mom sat up til the wee hours of the night, waiting for me to return from “sketchy” dates. I can still see her slumping in the chair when I pushed the front door open, trying to hide wrinkled clothes. Perhaps she thought, “If I am here when she comes home one more time, maybe she’ll stop parking with her boyfriend and doing the unmentionable on county roads.”

In addition, moms may feel like a gerbil on a wheel, relentlessly spinning and going nowhere. Try, try, try, with no response. In fact, the child may regress. The baby keeps arching, the lying child delights in covering up and screams hateful words, and the sleeping-around teen now smokes marijuana. 

What Compounds Compassion Fatigue

What intensifies compassion fatigue is judgmental outsiders. They have not a clue of what moms is endure.

It’s the school counselor who declares the adopted child acts just fine at school. It’s the religious lady who gossips to other worshippers that the father has no problems parenting. It’s the goody-two-shoe fellow adoptive parent who says her kids never act like that.

It is shame that forces moms to not share their pain with anyone. There must be something wrong with me. I’m a mess of a mom.

And, with all this pressure, what is a mom to do?

The sad fact is that she isolates herself, usually with no support whatsoever.

This breaks my heart, moms. I have created a FB page just for you where you can encourage one another. @adoptedkidsrejectlove, or What Parents Can Do When Adopted Kids Reject Their Love.

What Calms Compassion Fatigue

  1. Learning About Your Child’s Longterm Memories

So, if a mom is being constantly rejected by her child, if all her efforts to help are like pouring into a bucket with a hole, she wonders if the foundation she’s trying to lay will ever set.

My backstory is that I had absolutely no warm memories of mom, nor of almost anything she did for me…until her dying day. Whenever I shared the process of how healing occurred for me, moms would ask, and rightly so, “What is it that made the change? How can I know that my son or daughter will have what you got?”

Even though mom didn’t understand what I’m about to share, she must have kept on. laying a foundation for me. What she didn’t know about, nor did I until recently, is that memories can be lost. Those are called long-term memories. They’re like a lost glove. You still own it, but you can’t use it.

Let’s get heady for a moment? Let’s discuss how long-term memories are made in your child’s brain. Longterm memories are like the hard drive on your computer. These memories have an actual physical presence in the brain–in the hippocampus. 

When a new long-term memory is being made, neurons make physical connections and synapses with each other, and encode information. For example, as a child, the smell of mom’s apple pie was encoded in my brain repeatedly, with each apple pie.

So, moms, take heart that your loving deeds are not lost. Your child’s brain makes them into memories and embeds them for further use. Is that not comforting?

Reflecting on my relationship with Mom, I can now smell her essence, like a fine, expensive perfume. Even though the bottle is empty, I can still distinguish the fine fragrance.

 If I would have been handed the full bottle of perfume as a kid or teen, I’d either grab it and throw it to the ground, stomp on it while screaming, or plug my nose and run in the opposite direction.

Was I just a character-flawed kid? Were the genes stacked against me? Was there no hope for me to someday be able to cherish the fragrance of the perfume?

Of course not. I was one kid whose brain was telling her to move and attack, to rage, and to shut the world out completely.

The second thing that will surely calm Compassion Fatigue is self-care–the thing you need the most, but usually ignore.

2. Practicing Self-Care (Honoring Yourself)

Moms, think years ahead to the day that your child will say goodbye and go off to college, marriage, or total independence.

Imagine him jumping into the car in trashy clothes, pulling out of the driveway, and non-chalantly waving goodbye. What words would you say? “Bye…take good care of yourself….I love you?”

How can you ever expect and hope that your child will take care of himself? Where is he going to master the skills of self-care? Are they even on his radar screen? And, what about the “love you” part? How can he love others when he can’t love you, when he absolutely rejects love?

It is entirely possible for self-care and love to be on his radar screen because self-care can be modeled by you in the midst of the chaos and brokenness. And, your loving mom actions will show him how to love others.

As important as it is to make sure you are learning about what your child will need from you, it is equally important to tune in to your own heart; learn to recognize your needs; take time to honor yourself.

 What Moms Can Do

  1. Rest! Can someone help you take a “mental health day?” A spouse or friend? I do this often and I stay in bed and watch something that I’ve loved, like Call the MidWife tv program.

2. Go on a Mom Retreat. What an incredible experience to be with those who parent in the trenches, like you, and with speakers that know where you’re at and what ministers most to you.

3. Asses the level of your compassion fatigue: Symptoms of Compassion fatigue are listed here by @stress.org (The American Institute of Stress):

– Affects many dimensions of your well-being

– Nervous system arousal (Sleep disturbance)

– Emotional intensity increases

– Cognitive ability decreases

– Behavior and judgment impaired

– Isolation and loss of morale

– Depression and PTSD (potentiate)

– Loss of self-worth and emotional modulation

– Identity, worldview, and spirituality impacted

– Beliefs and psychological needs-safety, trust, esteem, intimacy, and control

– Loss of hope and meaning=existential despair

– Anger toward perpetrators or causal even

4. Take a bubble bath.

5. Find an adoption-competent therapist. Check with Center for Adoption Support, or Heather Talbot Forbes.

6. Identify a sport that you really like and sign up for a class.

BTW–I can not only smell Mom’s best-in-town apple pie, but I can make a mean one myself.

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Stop Running, Randall on THIS IS US

Randall, Watch Out, You're Cracking UP on THIS IS US

Randall is running to try to keep his sanity, but inside, he is screaming bloody murder.

His friends, colleagues, and wife could see what was happening but he wouldn’t listen, wouldn’t connect.

The longer the program went on, the more the pressures that came to bear on Randall and he began having insomnia and bad dreams.

You have to give Randall credit, though. When things got really, really tough and his inside feelings began too surface, he called brother Kevin and cried out to him for help.

Remembering back to his last breakdown, he couldn’t do that, remember? Kevin left his performance to find him crippled in silence in his office.

Insomnia Is A Red Flag 

One of the most important thing I noticed during the episode is that Randall couldn’t sleep. There’s a saying that even if generals in the army are deprived of five nights of sleep, they’ll crack up.

Randall’s insomnia went on for weeks, it seemed. And, whenever he tried to induce sleep through running or working harder, it never worked.

That’s such an awful feeling. At that point, one may slip from depression into psychosis. That happened to me years ago.

Adoptees who are at that point need medical and psychiatric intervention. I was hospitalized in the a local lock-down unit and given a huge shot, which was the only thing that would jolt me back into reality.

By the next morning, I regained reality, which was quite a miracle. Of course, I was put on heavy psychotic drugs for the ten day stay. I don’t know where I’d be if there hadn’t been intervention.

Randall teaches us important insights into many adoptee’s brains and behaviors:

  1. Randall couldn’t  get free of  past losses. He was full of grief over the loss of Jack, his father.
  2. Randall  kept fantasizing about Jack, his late father. Randall needed some professional help from a counselor on this. Every time he got sad, memories of his dad flashed before him–times when Jack was there to sleep beside him or cheer him on.
  3. Randall was terrified to look at the pain inside. Remember his screaming face, but him telling his friend that running was all that he needed.
  4. Because Randall already had experienced an emotional breakdown, he was terrified of another.

How many of we adoptees love Sterling Brown for portraying in vivid terms how we feel.

If you know an adopted person who is showing symptoms that reveal they are on the brink of falling into unreality, insist that they get help.

How to Help the Randalls of the World

If you know an adopted person who is suffering like Randall, here are some practical steps:

  • Take the person to see their general practitioner doc. This doc will be able to assess what kind of psychiatric help is needed.
  • Ask them if they feel suicidal. If they do, don’t leave them alone and take them to the nearest psychiatric pavilion.
  • Assure the adopted person that you have his/her back.
  • Visit them if they’re hospitalized.