When we were waiting to adopt, I remember sitting in adoption training and workshops as speakers attempted to paint a realistic picture of adoption. Although I’m convinced no one can fully prepare someone to adopt, we’re thankful we were not sold the lie that adoption is glamorous and easy. Beautiful, yes. Necessary, sometimes. Easy-breezy? Never. The adoption community around us helped our family understand that we were volunteering to walk into a life-long situation built on loss, hurt, pain, and the unknown. There would be varying degrees of loss, pain, and the unknown for every adoptive household, but we knew…those elements would exist in our story moving forward. Most painfully, they would exist in our child’s story.
No matter what labels or adjectives we assign to the conversation of adoption, here’s one thing I know with certainty; adoption is miraculously brave. When families have been well-educated about what real-life adoption looks like and sign up to take on an innocent child’s grief, loss, rage, and insecurities, I’m not sure if there is anything that requires more faith and courage. Not courage in the “Pass me the cape, I’m heroic, I’ll save you” sort of way. Courage in the “we’re already imperfect in this house, feel like fat parenting failures most days while raising kids without a lot of emotional scars, and yet we’re willing to rearrange our own dysfunction to make space for another life filled with hurt and fear.”
What I did not know at the time I was sitting in adoption training and conferences was what a mess I was as an individual. I think I ignorantly thought that we could offer a stable home, hold a hurting child, and make it a little better for them. When I imagined life as an adoptive, therapeutic parent, it was mostly the child needing the therapy…the support…the love. We would be there for them. We would do what it took to help them.
Simply stated, our child would need help. We would be the ones helping. The healthy, helping the unhealthy. The strong parenting the weak. The whole raising the broken.
Nothing could have been further from the truth.
If there is one prevailing message we have been learning as a family over the past five years, it’s this one…
You can’t be near the broken without coming face to ugly face with your own brokenness.
Fear, shame, pain, anger, and insecurity cause my child to break down and lose it. My own fear, shame, pain, anger, and insecurity fuel my embarrassing responses to his behavior. To say this isn’t how I imagined these scenarios playing out pre-adoption would be laughable.
Before adopting I thought I’d be here for my child, the instrument of help and healing to my child. The real truth is, I’m simply here with my child. Walking through our hurt and dysfunction together. Holding my child after an episode that leaves us sweaty and breathless admitting that we’re both a wreck in need of healing. In need of a miracle.
Me, needing to be parented by God while I attempt to parent.
Me, a child of this fallen world and thus a child of trauma to some extent, attempting to parent a child of trauma.
On paper this seems like such a bad idea, and I guess it would be if we fail to admit that we need healing just as much as our kids do.
We’re neck deep right now in evaluations for our son, counseling, and adoption support groups. We’re learning tactics, modifying diets, getting much-needed support, education, love, and understanding. These resources are extremely valuable. Most valuable is finding ourselves in a safe community where we feel free and encouraged to fully acknowledge our own shortcomings that keep us from responding to brokenness and pain with love, empathy, and patience. Prior to adopting, I thought adoption meant inviting loss, insecurity, and hurt into our story. Instead, adoption has been just as much about realizing to what extent those elements were already a very real part of our story and what it looks like to parent a hurting child out of our own rich bank of emotional deficits.
As painful and exhausting as this part of our life is in the moment, it’s surprising how hopeful and thankful I feel.
Adoption is the gift that you never quit opening, isn’t it?
I remember sitting in adoption training and conferences while we waited to adopt. I was scared but eager to be a small part of redemption in our future child’s life. I foolishly thought our family would be used (even if it was only in a minuscule way) to bring healing and health to a child who was coming from a place of loss and pain. Instead, our son is forever the reason why God is bringing healing and health to us. Oh, the irony.
We are learning that we rarely walk before our kids through pain, loss, insecurity, and fear. We walk with them. It’s less about healing them, and more about healing together.
Heather Hendrick is wife to Aaron and mom to four crazy boys. The Hendricks have fostered, adopted domestically, and recently returned from living in Haiti where they worked to raise awareness for orphan prevention. Heather blogs at Sit a Spell sharing the wonder and hilarity that boys bring to any home and the spiritual struggles her family faces as they try to keep it simple and believe the teachings of Jesus.