Now that the marathon photo posting session is over, I hope you've all had your fill for a day or two. it is my hope that as we move out of Phase 1 and move on to Phase 2 I will have more interesting pictures for you of our latest adventures. One of my favorites ever will no doubt be the first night we are all sleeping together under one roof, even if it IS far from home!
I received a comment from a long time blogger friend of mine and realized it is the one thing in 3+ years of regular blogging that I might not have ever talked about at length. Imagine that...Cindy actually NOT talking about something! Hahaha! Dominick would love that one, as another dear friend of mine and I call ourselves, we are "very verbal"...gee...ya think?!?!?!
Here is the comment I received:
Cindy, I wonder if you would consider sharing how you explained to your children that they were adopted. Especially with Joshua. Hannah knows the word adopted, but none of the meaning behind that in terms of her birth mother and abandonment. How did you approach it, especially with Joshua's RAD. Hannah's had such a stuggle with attachment issues too. I'd really appreciate your advice.
Before I write anything else, I want to make sure that y'all know this is just how Mama LaJoy handles it, that doesn't make it the "right" way, and it doesn't mean anyone else ought to do it this way. As you have read over the past month, there are people who firmly and totally disagree at times to the approach we take and that is their right and they can move forward in their lives in any way they choose and I have no issue whatsoever with them or anyone else who looks at my life and says "What a LOSER...what an IDIOT...I would NEVER handle that in that way!". Good for you! If you can ever take something I share and use it, fine, but you have your own perspective and your own child whose individuality should be taken into account. They way I handle things is the best way I know how to do it guided by the lessons I have learned from others and what I feel God is saying to me at the moment.
So...here we go...
Talking about adoption with our kids has always been the easiest part of our adoptions, and I think of often we parents create more seriousness around the issue than there needs to be. Notice I do not say that there doesn't need to be respect or care in these discussions, but there should never, ever, EVER be fear on the part of the parents! If you gave birth...you'd eagerly share the stories surrounding the birth, right? You'd giggle over Daddy's reaction when your water broke, you'd talk with tenderness about the first time you saw your baby and he or she was laid in your arms, you'd laugh over the gag gifts at the shower or the first time you had to change a diaper...and your child would get a huge kick out of it and laugh with you. So let me share with you the previously unwritten rules that I guess we have always followed that have worked for us, and now they appear to be written down! hahah!
Rule #1 - There is no "right time" to begin talking about adoption. From the day they get home, no matter how little, it is part of your family story as naturally as if you had given birth. It was just as miraculous, so why WOULDN'T it be? From the time they are little babies and are in the tub and you are lathering them up and say "Oh, you are the most beautiful baby in the entire world...your birth mom and dad must have been SO handsome and pretty!", or when you make a baby book showing the orphanage and their crib mates, TALK about it! It happened, it was true, there is nothing to hide!
Rule #2 - As the parent, be on the lookout for natural and comfortable ways to bring adoption talk into the conversation between you and your child. If your toddler sees a pregnant woman and talks about it, that is the perfect opportunity to explain that babies come from their mommies tummies but hey, did you know you had TWO mommies and you didn't grow in MY tummy? Yes...even if they are only 2. The longer you wait , the more mystery you make surround it all, the bigger deal it unwittingly becomes. When you see obviously adoptive families, point them out. When you talk about when they were babies, don't hesitate to say "The day we arrived at the orphanage and I first held you...".
Their story is as sad...or as wonderful...as you make it!! "You were abandoned and abused and had no parents" or "Isn't God amazing to put adoptive families together?"
With RAD kids though this approach may need to be different, in my opinion. With Josh we HAD to acknowledge what his soul was telling him but what he didn't have the facts to put together. At barely two we talked about his other mommy who had left him alone, and explained all his moves from her to materinty hospital to orphanage to us, and that babies need to feel safe with one or two main people taking care of them so that was why at times he struggled. He couldn't understand why he felt so uncomfortable in his own skin and in our arms, and we had to give him the name for it.
Rule #3 - This may seem strange on the heels of #2 but your child's history is theirs. You have absolutely NO RIGHT EVER EVER EVER to hide anything from them in an effort to "save them from the pain". Would YOU like it if something was hidden from you, no matter how loving the motive? Our job as parents, in my view (and you can feel free to argue all you want it won't change my opinion on this so don't bother yelling at me in the comments, you won't ever change my mind), is not to protect our child from all that they will encounter in life...it is to walk beside them to help them process it and work through it all. Josh knows he was left behind an apartment building, perhaps to die, perhaps in panic, perhaps in the hopes someone would find him. We have played through all the scenarios and I have not pretended to know the truth,. for it is unknowable. All the boys know their beginnings, all have asked questions, all will continue to see it from different vantage points as they grow older. But it IS their history and revisionism is unfair and damaging.
Now, does this mean you explain rape to a 2 year old? Of course not as they can not understand "Sex" even. But when it comes up naturally in conversation, when you begin talking about sex or explaining the facts of life...it is time. How hard is it really to look your child in the eye and say "You know sweetheart, sometimes men can force women into making babies because they are stronger and want to take advantage of a woman...and the woman is helpless and can't stop a stronger man. It is a mean thing to do, but your mommy was amazingly strong and loved you so much that even though she didn't want to make a baby with that man she wanted you to be here on earth and loved you enough to have you! That is REAL love!"
And you may find that "sex" comes up earlier with adopted children as a natural progression of the questions about where babies come from, why they didn't grow in your tummy...and...oh yea...by the way...how did the baby get in there in the first place? We had the full on birds and bees talk with Matthew when I think he was about 6 or so, and then again with Kenny and Josh and Matt awhile after Kenny came home. Yea, the WHOLE set of facts, nothing left out. Did they giggle and grin? Yes. Did they ask questions? Yes. Have they turned into sex fiends? No, in fact, because we gave them facts and yet protect them somewhat from being immersed in our oversexualized culture they are still far more innocent than most of their friends.
Remember, if YOU are uncomfortable with it, your children certainly will be as well. The facts about how life begins are awesome...it is about the coolest thing God ever created...the way humans and life of any sort is created. What is so scary about that?
Rule #3 - Honor the birth parents, but don't help create a fairy tale. They are real, their children are in care of someone else for a reason. They could be great people or they could be a wreck. Who knows? Help your child grab on to a very real mental picture of who their birth parents might be...human...like us all. At the very least, they gave them life and deserve to be honored for that alone. Please note that "honor" does not mean love.
Rule #4 - Here is one where I know there are lots of you out there who will disagree with me, and you very well may be proven right. If the birth parents were awful...don't try and pretend they were good. Evil exists. Some of our kids have sadly experienced it and are old enough to know evil when they see it. Sure you can say they had a mental illness, they were an alcoholic and couldn't help themselves, they were abused as kids themselves. Those might all be facts that can be presented dispassionately and rationally at some point. But I wouldn't personally dream of not acknowledging the evil that birth parents are capable of doing...it is demeaning of the experience the child may have been old enough to remember having gone through.
What some don't understand about my earlier post about my ANGER at Angela and Olesya's birth parents is that we HAVE to be allowed to feel that anger before we can move through it, and some of this is now more real to me than it ever has been before. Does that mean I think I or the girls should carry around that anger forever and wallow in it? Of course not, but give me a break here, I have been their mom for only 3 weeks now and am ENTITLED to be angry for a bit...in fact if I, as their mother, am not ANGRY about it, what does that say about me??? Burying anger is not a way to heal. Experiencing it and moving THROUGH it is healthy.
Often our kids have never had the chance to seriously express their anger at what their birth parents did to them with anyone who cared enough to really listen. The anger Angela feels is intense, and at some point I know we will have some serious work to do there. If I looked her in the eyes and said "But honey, they weren't really all that bad...they probably loved you in their own way." it would be a lie she'd read from a mile away and frankly it would be hard for me to choke out.
Sometimes the birth parents did NOT love their children, many times they were a burden they wished they could be rid of, they were someone to beat up on or ignore. I think we need to acknowledge that truth. I know...I know...many of you will disagree and say "but they had to love them, we need them to think that.". We will have to agree to disagree. Kids know the truth, especially if they lived it.
BUT BUT BUT BUT...God is in it all. God ALWAYS loved them and that can be pointed out as truth. Our children can hopefully heal by letting them express their anger, and showing them what real love is all about. They won't heal by us pretending that evil people were really good people. I am not saying we should demonize the birth parents, not at all. But just as with sex, the facts are the facts...don't hide them, don't pretend they were good people when indeed they were not. Let your kids see that you would have protected them if you could have.
I have told Josh that I wish I had been there the day his mommy left him so I could have scooped him up and held him close so he was safe. I have told him that at times, just like HE has felt, I am mad that she did that to him and wished she had made other choices. He seemed to need to know that he was not alone in his anger, that I was with him on that...but we moved on. We felt it, we talked about it, we talked about the failure of ALL mankind to be perfect and how everyone makes mistakes sometimes...sometimes really big ones.
Were the girls' parents sick? Oh yes, in so many ways. Will we one day get to that place of talking about that...a place where compassion can hopefully be felt for them? I hope so. Will that day come BEFORE the anger is vented? No, because compassion has to come after the anger.
And I guess a part of me believes as strongly in Evil as I do Good. It is not an area of my faith that I have all worked out in my head yet, and it might never be...but, for me, if I believe in Good then I have to believe in Evil. For Evil to me is an absence of God, and God CAN be rejected...and Evil can enter. God still surrounds though through the actions of others. Thankfully someone acted to save the girls.
Whew...didn't mean to get all theological there when I still have no clue about any of it either!
Rule #5 - Don't go overboard. Don't make your child feel like an "adopted child", make them feel like your child who happened to be adopted. There is a time and place for everything, and adoption shouldn't enter every single conversation you have with your kids, you don't have to point out every time you see a multi-racial family and assume they have adopted children, you don't have to do an adoption presentation every year for 10 years to their classes, you don't have to jump to the conclusion that every issue is adoption related, etc. Be natural. Admittedly, in our family the subject has come up naturally quite often as we have been in "adoption mode" for 11 years now and live in a community that is not ethnically diverse, so our mis-matched family is often approached or pointed out in a friendly way, so it keeps the conversation going more than it otherwise would I think. Let your kids lead a little as they get older, watch for clues, if you see something going on in their heads, ask and bring up the subject if you feel it is warranted.
A child will most often NOT come up to you and say "Mom...Dad...I need to discuss my issues surrounding attachment and my birth parents. Can we have a chat?". But they might show sorrow when watching a film with adoption as a theme. They might make a stray comment about someone else being pregnant and wishing they were from inside you. However you don't have to comment every time you see a pregnant person. You don't have to suggest your kids learn Russian or Chinese or Korean simply because that is where they were from and wouldn't that just be GREAT if they spoke their native language? What if they want to learn French?
Rule #6 - Don't get all politically correct on them. If your child refers to their birth parents as "mom and dad", don't get offended, don't let yourself get sucked into feeling pushed aside. While words definitely mean things and I would be the first to say that, my kids have all at one time or another referred to their birth parents as "my old mommy and daddy" or just their plain old mom and dad. Don't be so hung up on asserting your own place in their heart that you let the language get in the way of the message. Your continual use yourself of more carefully selected terms will eventually rub off. And I guess I admit that this one is not a big deal to me at all, we call them "first mom and dad" sometimes too...for that is really what they were. I have personally never really cared for "birth mom and dad" as that sounds too impersonal for someone created and who carried my child for 9 months in their womb, but I use it because the politically correct crowd seems to think that is the "best" terminology.
Rule #7 - Please, please, please don't forget bio dads. They were part of the equation too, and often it is confusing (and again, in my opinion, unfair) to exclude the other half of the creating parents. How do you KNOW birth dad didn't want to keep your child? How do you KNOW dad wasn't in a lot of emotional pain at the relinquishment of his child? I HATE that everyone always only talks about the birth mom, as if she was a saint and birth dad didn't even exist. That is plain old rotten, dismissive and robs our kids of another person in their life who just might have loved them deeply, contrary to popular public opinion today that seems to rate Dads somewhere between unimportant and mere sperm donor.
Rule #8 - RELAX - We parents make a bigger deal out of it than the kids do, as is the case on most issues, attachment problems or otherwise. We love them, they most often love us or will eventually grow to. Families share, families talk, don't be afraid or uncomfortable, it is part of who you are together. If you wouldn't be uncomfortable talking about driving to the hospital and how long your labor was, why would you be uncomfortable talking about adoption?
It's the same thing...and yet it isn't...and some of you will understand me saying that.
That's all I can think of for now. You probably shouldn't have asked Lindsey, and I know that the vast majority of readers will be offended or angry. The main thing, guys, is just do it. Talk about it, don't make it off limits...it is only adoption, for goodness sake...
Love your kids, share with your kids, rejoice with your kids in how your family was formed, cry with them over the losses, be open to conversation and embrace every question and every tear that is shed.
You'll all be better for it.