Today we are celebrating 4, beautiful years home with our son. Every year is different in its struggles and joys. We have always been open and honest with our boy from the start, talking to him about his adoption before he could even talk. Last year, right around this time was the first time he actually asked me a very pointed question about his story. From that point on, it has been a full year of questions, of processing for him.
Some days, there has been legit grief. There have been no lie, hour long conversations with my 4 year old, completely led by him. There have been tears shed. There have been times where I really feel like I’m not strong enough to answer these things. I knew we would get here, but I didn’t know we would get here so soon. There have been times where I have gone through a conversation by the grace and strength of God alone, sat with my boy as he fell asleep, then walked out of the room to collapse in grief myself.
Adoption is hard y’all. But let me tell you something fellow foster and adoptive mamas, or maybe you are someone considering adoption and foster care, you should not be scared of these conversations. You should welcome them.
When I mention that Kai has been asking more and more questions, I have had people either say to me or give me the attitude of “well…y’all told him about it. What do you expect?” As if to say we shouldn’t have or this is our fault that he’s feeling this way.
As parents, you basically have 2 choices. You can create a space where there is openness, honesty, and acceptance. A safe place for your kids to fall. A safe place where your kids know they can come to you without feeling judged, ashamed, or alone. Or, you can sweep things under the rug, you can project your own feelings and insecurities upon them when they open up about hard things, taking offense, and leave them to feel big feelings and process by themselves.
I think I’ll take the first option. I am so, so thankful that Kai feels safe enough to tell me already, at age 4, what he wishes could have been. That he knows that no matter what, we will be here. He will not have to explore any of this on his own. We don’t have all the answers, but we are here, and we will help him. Let’s not forget, the most important person in this conversation is the adoptee. This is their life, their story. For a long time in the adoption world, it was very “hush-hush.” Adoptees were shut down, told not to talk about their first families or ask about them, not allowed to feel the loss, pain, or grieve. We’ve come a long way in the research and advocacy, but we still have a long way to go. Can you imagine going through a major loss and trauma and be told you aren’t allowed to express your grief?
We do not give kids enough credit. Kids are incredibly intuitive, and the brain is made in such a way to protect. They can smell dishonesty from a mile away. And dishonesty causes distrust. We will not have that in this house. That whole “downstairs” brain is all about natural instinct to survive. You aren’t supposed to operate out of that all of the time, only in times of danger. So for a young child, when that has been compromised and they have operated out of their downstairs brain for an extended period of time, distrust becomes the automatic. Trust was not automatic when our family came together. It’s not for any foster or adoptive family. It has to be built. A solid foundation must be laid. Physical needs have to be met consistently by the same people over and over again, communicating that you do not have to fend for yourself. You don’t have to just survive, you are safe. Then you build it brick by brick through connection, through relationship, through emotional availability, conversation by conversation. Through fun times, through play, through mistakes and repair, through hard conversations, through being a safe person.
We have laid a solid foundation for years, the best we knew how thanks to great training and the wisdom of adoptive parents who have gone before us. It was the first thing we did. It’s why no one but us was allowed to hold him, feed him, etc. for those first few months we were home. I don’t regret that for a second. I didn’t “spoil” my baby because I held him and wore him close to me all of the time. And we haven’t been causing pain by talking openly to him about why he was adopted in the first place. That pain friends, was already there. You have to remember that adoption does indeed begin with loss for everyone in the adoption triad.
So it’s ok for a 4 year old to ask big questions and have big feelings. It’s not scary, wrong, or bad. It’s healthy. It’s good. It’s so hard, but I know that we are we are doing now is going to be huge in the long run.
This will not be the only year of processing. Many more years lie ahead. We take this one conversation at a time, one season at a time, in age appropriate ways. But we will do this together.
Kai, I know that every big day like your birthday and even today, the day we became a family, is bitter-sweet. It means both loss and gain. And that is not lost on us. To say we are blessed that you are our son is an understatement. You bring so much joy and laughter in our lives. You give the absolute best hugs. You’re 4 but you talk like an adult 80% of the time. You are so patient with us when we mess up, and because we’re human we do every day. You have the kindest heart, always the first to run up and check on your friends when they are hurt or sad, or say “I can help you!” with complete confidence when anyone is struggling. I am so thankful for these 4 years. I prayed for you for so long. I just knew, my baby was in Japan. I’m sad I didn’t get to carry you in my tummy, feel your kicks or hiccups. I bet you moved constantly. But I also wouldn’t ever want to take away that time you did get to have with your first mom. I prayed for her too. So much, and still do. And I even prayed specifically that she would cherish all those kicks, hiccups, and movements while you grew inside her. Not because I didn’t get to, but because I knew that time between the two of you was precious. You are so loved, and no matter what, I hope that is what you see.