I’m really wondering about the benefits and drawbacks of being open about what it’s like to walk through adopting a child “from a hard place” versus keeping the information private to protect our children, and finding it challenging to understand where to draw the line in different situations.
When our kids first came home it was pretty obvious that they were adopted; mostly because we still live in the same community, the same house, jobs, church, friends, etc. as before and yet suddenly – BAM! Kids! That and they called us “new mommy/daddy” and “forever dad/mom” for a good couple of months after coming home and often referred to their foster family in public conversations. Kind of hard to hide that anyhow… that and we had no clue what we were doing so often likely looked pretty lost and more like clueless babysitters than anything else. 😉
So we talked about it, since they did. They weren’t ashamed about it and there’s nothing to hide so yep. We did get a few oblivious/presumptuous questions (i.e. “So what’s the story with the mom?”) but after a few re-directs and us focusing on how they’d been in an awesome foster home for a long time, most folks got the hint and dropped it.
But nowadays we’re just “mom” and “dad” and I’m not quite sure how to approach some things. More recently if we refer to adoption in mixed company (those who know and those who don’t) to our foster family or to waiting for the adoption order, etc., we get these surprised looks… which is what it is, but more so my big question is “How much of the trials and joys of this journey do we share?”
I want people to actually consider adopting through foster care. So many are scared of the challenges and so back away from it. I want to encourage them that it *is* beautiful and do-able. I also want to be honest about the crap we deal with… and to not feel like the real and frankly valid struggles our kids have to work through aren’t a dirty little secret we need to hide. The pain they feel makes sense. Of course they’re feeling deep deep grief. The confusion they feel is valid. Of course they are confused and aren’t quick to trust. The anxiety and fear and hope and plain old desire to dissociate when it’s too much? All of it I get… and I want to talk about it to normalize it for us and to defend it for them.
To defend their right to grieve relationships. To defend their confusion and anger. To defend their blossoming hope and the corresponding fear of rejection which comes with it.
Of course they feel this way – any of us would. I would! They’ve experienced more loss in their little lives than I have as an adult – of course it’s hard… so I want to be honest that no, Christmas wasn’t magical. Christmas was exhausting. I want to be honest that even though you think they’re “settled in so nicely” that you’re only seeing the superficial things like them knowing our routine, and hearing them call us “mom” and “dad” – not seeing the mixed loyalties (‘if I love my new mom does that mean I don’t love my foster mom anymore?’), the massive sleep issues and nightmares, and their highly practiced skills at trying to distract us from having deep and real conversations.
But then I fear that by being honest it will come across like they’re “bad kids” and that it’s super scary and not worth it, which is patently untrue. These kids are awesome. And resilient. And stinkin’ funny! And sweet, gentle, caring, imaginative, sociable, and a million other things. They’re just dealing with the crap that life has tossed them and dealing with it like kids. Because they’re kids.
So yeah… I want to defend their privacy. It’s their story. Their background… and yet I want to explain what it’s like for a child who’s been through so much so that I can help others have eyes of compassion for them and so that others can see that when poor behaviour happens it’s not them being bratty – it’s my kids being little and not knowing how to deal with pain and loss of a scale where most adults wouldn’t be able to deal with it. I want people to realize that even though I’m tired and often frustrated, I’m also humbled and feel very privileged to walk beside these two boys and to help them navigate their losses and to help give them voice. (If nothing else I will have earned any love and trust they give me!)
I’m curious about others in the adoption world. How do you decide what and how much to share?
This is something we still struggle with. We had decided to keep our son’s story private initially, but found it much harder than I anticipated. I tend towards the overshare anyway, then during the most dramatic upheaval of our lives trying to keep it on the downlow… Wasn’t working, especially because I think his story is so amazing and inspiring, despite the messy. So far, we’ve kept the details to ourselves and share what we feel is edifying and honouring to him and even his birth family. Surprisingly I’ve been able to find a lot positive and empathetic to say about them. The uglier details we share only with close family and friends we trust (because sometimes we need to vent too).
I’m sure there are times I’ve shared too much and times I’ve missed a chance to shine some light on the process… it’s like walking a tight rope.