Ania, Amerey (and baby Moira and Cecilia), and I stopped at the playground by the Mon River after lunch one day. The weather was sunny and close to sixty. Cecilia tromped around the playground trying every nook and cranny, joyfully waving at other kids before she camped out in the sandbox. Amerey and I sat on the bench next to the sandbox and Cecilia began a conversation with a Mom and a little boy on the other side of the fence.
“Is that Mom speaking Polish?” Amerey asked me.
“I think so. I need to hear one more thing to be sure.” I waited for the Mom to say something else and I said, “Yep!”
“I knew it,” Ania said, “something deep in the back of my mind recognized it!”
“Okay, go talk to her!” I said.
Ania alluded to the fact that she wanted to relearn Polish and she might want to go back and visit Poland. Years ago, when Ania was small, this may have sent me into an inner emotional tailspin. Not now. I love it!
I walked over and talked to the sweet, shy, beautiful Polish lady, and blurted out (okay, butchered) the Polish phrases I remembered, and both my girls joined in. Pretty Polish Mama grinned when I said them but hesitated when I asked questions. So, I said my farewells and we left.
“Someone has been very mean to her,” Ania offered as we walked back to the parking lot, “people make me mad!”
FLASH TO THE PAST.
What insight. We don’t know any of the sweet Mama’s story, but Ania could read her pain. Suddenly, I was transported to an orphanage in Poland with four-year-old Ania, in a heap on the floor, crying and angry. Again, back in the states, over and over, she said no to my parenting, no to my loving advances, my parenting style. She didn’t want to eat when she needed to eat. She didn’t want to go outside, because she was afraid. She didn’t want to enjoy the swimming pool because she didn’t understand the physical laws of nature and that floaties (and Mamas) will hold you up.
Thankfully, by the grace of God, I didn’t take this personally. I had done that with my first child, sporadically thinking that she didn’t love me because of the way she was acting. She didn’t sleep, she didn’t want to be hugged and cuddled. Then I discovered she had some health issues after a ten-day stay in the hospital, my perspective changed.
GLORIOUS DREAMS OF PARENTHOOD
I think we parents have glorious dreams of parenthood in our minds when we adopt. We can’t wait to be a family. We will love the child and he will love us and all will be right with the world. Picture perfect, right?
What if, as Ania said, “someone has been very mean to them,” what if they don’t trust? What if they have been rejected? Tossed about by circumstances and from home to home? What if the person who was supposed to care for them didn’t follow through and do it?
In order for a child to love, he must feel secure. What if it takes years for a child to feel secure? Can you hack it? Can you keep loving, keep pouring into the child while he pours out hateful words or falls on the floor in a heap?
YOUR ADOPTED/FOSTER CHILD WILL WOUND YOU.
It’s inevitable in any relationship that we will be disappointed. We will be wounded. It’s sometimes a shock to our system when the wounds from our adopted/foster child come so frequently and viciously. We parents can wonder why we are sticking this out when we feel as our adopted/foster child doesn’t love us. We want to give up when we parent with love, make sure the child’s needs are met and the return is “I hate you!”
YOUR ADOPTED/FOSTER CHILD WILL EXPECT YOU TO BE PERFECT.
It’s such a strange phenomenon. Our child’s birth parents are far from perfect (as are we). A child who has had trauma will accept scraps from bio parents and expect x-boxes, phones and pure gold from foster/adoptive parents. It can be infuriating, devastating and cause us to doubt why we are doing this in the first place.
KIDS ARE USED TO TRAUMA.
Kids from hard places, i.e., any child from the foster care system is used to trauma. It’s their normal. We are a new normal. We parent from the idea or supposition that the child has value. We value them. We value our possessions and care for them. The child doesn’t value themselves or their possessions. It’s paradoxical. When we are able to think of it from their perspective, we can understand why they accept scraps from bio parents. Bio parents gave them scraps before and with the hope that it would turn into something more, the child accepted it. You give love, security, and the best. The child begins to expect that from you even if he doesn’t act appreciative. Keep doing what you are doing. Don’t withhold love just because your child isn’t acting loving towards you.
LOVE IS NOT A GUSHY FEELING. IT IS AN ACTION WORD.
Love is a commitment. Love is kind when kindness is not returned. Love is patient when others are impatient. Love hardly even notices when someone does something wrong. Love forgives. Love’s hopes are fade-less in all circumstances.
When we sign the adoption decree, it means the child is part of the family, it does not mean that family is part of the child. Through the history of Abraham, we learn about “faith without works.” He believed God and it was accounted to him as righteousness, he had an account labeled “righteous.” When we adopt/foster, we have an account labeled “family” and we have to put works into that account in order for a child begin to love us back. When I say love, I’m not talking about chubby toddler arms wrapping around my neck giving me a hug (that is wonderful), I’m talking about believing, trusting that Mom and Dad will meet the child’s needs. It’s the kind of love that says, “I feel secure, I know you are there for me.”
Fast forward sixteen years, Ania is twenty years old, an amazing young woman. By that, I mean she loves others and has empathy. She sees pain and responds to it because she remembers the pain. She understands the need for family and she loves her family. You see, Ania didn’t trust me at four and all these years later, she does. She knows I will be there when she needs me. For example, when she took her car into the dealership for a check-up and she texted me and asked me to come to pick her up. She didn’t ask me before she left because I was working out and she knows I can’t exercise and talk at the same time. She told me later, “I knew you would come to get me, so I just left.” This brings tears to my eyes. She knew I would come and get her. That’s huge!
Are you parenting a child who “doesn’t love you”, i.e., isn’t attached to you, doesn’t trust you? Are you ready to give up because it is difficult? Don’t. Please, just don’t. Family is more than just a name on a piece of paper, it’s a safe haven. Your home can be that safe haven. It will take time, months, maybe years, but you will have those pinpricks of light when the child comes to you. The light may be something as simple and profound as “Will you help me with this math?” Or when the child trusts that you will have a snack when he needs it or that you will pick her up at the car dealership.