In a recent email conversation with a friend, the topic of adoptive families being perceived or expected to always be happy came up. My friend expressed concern for the need to break this stereotype or expectation.
I wholeheartedly agreed with my friend. From the outside of things, our family looks pretty good. Three cute children, smiling faces, and the outgoing statements of how blessed we are seems to permeate the air that we surround.
However, the truth is that adoptive families are not always “happy”. We are not always happy. We don’t always see eye-to-eye. Our children (sometimes) exhibit behaviors and other issues that seem to be directly linked to genetic trademarks and/or other concerns related to when they were in the womb of their birth mothers. Sometimes, they are just being kids making really poor choices.
My husband and I attended a training today that was devoted to parenting children with unique needs (social, emotional, behavioral). As the trainer talked about brain development and the impact of neglect, I thought to myself, “This is not happy.”
The trainer went on to speak about children who put themselves last to take care of their parents and siblings, and the potentially destructive results of this. Again, I thought, “This is not happy.”
All of the families in the training are walking the difficult road of parenting children whose beginnings in life were estranged from normalcy, whose health and well-being were often the last thing anyone thought of, and whose lives have been dramatically changed by circumstances beyond their control. In many respects, I feel the most comfortable when around other families who share similar experiences.
Listening to families share their experiences was invaluable. Watching men cry over the heartbreak of their child’s history, while also reveling in just how far their children have come, was also very touching. Recognizing that we are not alone in our struggles was incredibly encouraging.
So tonight, I’m thankful for the shared experiences of foster and adoptive families who have stepped out of their own comfort zones, and stepped forward into the battle ground of child abuse and neglect.
I’m thankful for families who keep pushing ahead, despite the wounded pasts of their children. I’m also thankful for the opportunity to connect with others who have chosen to stand up to the stereotypes, and bravely care for children who otherwise just might not make it in this world where fairness and kindness do not always exist.
To say we are blessed is true. To say we have many joyful and happy moments is also true. To say that we strive to be resilient, mindful, and intentional is true as well.
But, to say that our hearts do not break for what our (meaning foster/adoptive families as a whole) children struggle with is not true. There are many foster/adoptive families waging wars against the painful realities of their children’s histories.
So next time you are around someone involved in the child welfare system, offer a kind word, tell them that you are encouraged by their courage, show them that you too care for abused and neglected children, and pray that the Lord would heal their hurts, give them wisdom, and surround them with His hedge of protection.
Don’t expect us to be happy all of the time.
Instead, see us as what we are – imperfect families with a perfect purpose.