“Step parents? What do you mean?…..my parents aren’t divorced,” my child patiently explained.
“Well, then what do you call the people who adopted you?”
“Uhmmm….Mom and Dad. They are the only parents I have.” My child laughed tenderly, fully understanding the majority’s ignorance on the topic of adoption.
As I overheard this conversation between my child and a friend, I saw the types of struggles and challenges my children bravely face every day differently than ever before.
So often, perhaps too often, the spotlighted bravery is given to the Adoptive Parents. As a mother of 7 adopted children I can certainly attest to the bravery needed to walk in faith believing God would go before me on the battlefield of raising kids from hard places.
But what about my children’s battlefields? What about the bravery they exhibit opening their hearts to new parents, new families, learning new ways of life, and fighting through past hurts and trauma?
Those questions must make them so uncomfortable, I thought. With one simple inquiry of ignorance my child was forced to acknowledge: I had other parents; but right now these are the only parents I have.
I humbly recognized adoptive parents are not the only ones braving adoption. The adopted children deserve just as much (if not more) credit for their bravery in this adventure as the parents.
Frankly, I now believe they brave more on a daily basis then any adoptive parent does.
They Brave the Questioning
Constant and curious question always follow them: do you know your real parents? Why did they give you up? Do you talk to your real parents? Do you consider your adoptive parents to be your real parents? Do you miss your real parents?
Can we really fathom, as biologically raised adults, what it is like to face these questions form their peers? At a time in life when they are desperate to fit in, they are constantly reminded of their differences. They are persistently asked to answer the hard questions of their past.
Most often the questions come from curiosity and ignorance but unfortunately they can also come from judgement. Their different skin color, features, talents, personalities, and names brings immediate attention and questions from peers.
Yet, I see them bravely answer all the questions, adjusting to this as though it is normal. They give abundant grace to those who have no clue how adoption works, what it looks like, and how normal it actually is. Rather than retreating in to silence, they muster the confidence to answer the constant questions and curiosities. With more courage than I can imagine, they face the facts of their story and aim to dissipate the taboo questions around adoption.
They Brave the Loss
Adopted children of all ages suit up in some type of armor every day to battle through the feelings of loss and abandonment. This is a battle only they know and often cannot describe to anyone. It’s a battle of insecurity and worthiness that can manifest itself in countless ways.
Whether or not they are showing up to battle the enemy of abandonment in their life, they are at least bravely carrying on despite it. This, in itself, is noteworthy.
Alongside this battle of loss is the fight for connection, bonding, and relationship to their new family. These are huge battles and can be hard in the most natural of circumstances. The interesting aspect of this is while fighting for connection to their adoptive Mom & Dad, they are being disciplined and held accountable for the first time in their life. To the young and traumatized mind, discipline does not feel like love. They fight (sometimes literally) for and through this love because they know they need it but it’s incredibly hard. This, perhaps, is bravest work they do.
They Brave the Guilt
Adopted children are often laden with survivor’s guilt. The good life they are experiencing in their adopted family doesn’t seem fair. “Do I really deserve a good life, this much food, clothes, and fun activities while my biological parents/family have nothing?” So they sabotage all the good in an effort to reconcile their feelings. They ruin holidays, special occasions, and simple everyday moments of joy.
Outwardly this doesn’t appear to be bravery at work. What appears as cowardice or manipulation isn’t meant to be hurtful or ungrateful towards the adoptive parents (although this is how it feels.) Sabotage is simply how they bravely face their pain. This isn’t a conscious choice of manipulation, it’s an unconscious reconciliation of emotions. And that’s okay.
It has taken 9 years of raising adopted children for me to fully understand the dynamics at work in my children. Their battles are real and their bravery is significant.
For so long I have personally claimed to be doing the brave and hard work of raising children. I’ve tried to make the difficult choices that prioritizes character over comfort. I put aside my own needs in order to fulfill those of my children. I’ve said yes to more kids than I’ve ever dreamed.
I really thought I was the brave one. How selfishly wrong I find myself.
My kids – and all adopted children – are doing the brave and hard work of adoption. They are battling for love, normalcy, healing, friendship, acceptance, reconciliation, and redemption. They are fighting the demons of their past while pursuing their dreams of the future.
THEY are the amazingly brave ones.