Relationships between adoptive moms and their kids will involve more stress than bio kids and parents. If an adoptive mother isn't educated about this reality, she may conclude that her parenting is inferior--"I thought it was me and my inability to nurture and support them properly." Sherrie Eldridge proposes a bootcamp within her new book that would prepare parents well. As a result, they won't enter the battlefields without being seasoned warriors. The first step is to learn what a "non-intentional" relationship is and how the four aspects of it affect both mother and child.
It’s easy to discern when something’s not right between you and another person. Spontaneity drains and conversation is forced. You end up saying things never intended,and then comes a wave of guilt. It’s extremely challenging to be authentic with this person and you wonder what’s wrong. We’ve come to the table of life with different backgrounds, beliefs, and battle scars and when we attempt relating, it may seem like trying to mix oil and water. Is it you? Is it the other person? Or, both? No matter your conclusion, the relationship is more stressful than most.
This type of stressful relationship is oftentimes termed “unintentional.” Research shows four aspects of an unintentional relationship:
In other words, the relationship is stressful because each person brings a set of preconceived ideas, backgrounds, trauma wounds, and worldviews that can compromise connections on a meaningful level.
Let’s bounce back to my homecoming? Both Retha and I entered the relationship with a history of other relationships. I entered my parent’s home with a previous set of parents--Elizabeth and Robert. Yes, relinquishment papers were signed and the First parents weren’t present physically, or were they? Even though Retha and Mike couldn’t see them, they were still there physically...encoded in my brain. Retha had a trauma experience embedded in her brain. Just think about all the people meeting me on homecoming day. It was Retha, fearful Retha, Mike, newborn Sherrie, and heartbroken baby Sherrie. Talk about a loaded situation.
List the aforementioned everyday stressful relationships and then write a large exclamation mark in regard to Moms and their adopted kids. E.v.e.r.y.t.h.i.n.g is amplified by relinquishment and adoption. If a Mom isn’t prepared for this reality prior to adoption, she may wonder if something is wrong with her and/or her parenting methods. Denise Walk notes,“No one said anything. For the first three years, I thought it was me and my inability to nurture and support them properly.”
Many Professionals Don’t Prepare Prospective Parents for Stress
To state it plainly, relationships between adoptive Moms and their kids will involve more stress than biological parents and kids. Unfortunately, the subject of stress between mother and child resulting from unintentional relationships isn’t discussed by the majority of adoption agencies, child protective services, or adoption professionals. Some agencies are required by State law to provide this type of education and preparation, but for many others, it’s too scary to broach the topic. What adoption professional is brave enough to tell prospective parents that their child may reject not only their love, but them? Isn’t this like throwing a bucket of cold water on the adoption? And, do prospective parents really want to hear harsh possibilities? Many professionals say yes. Or, do they want to ride into the adoption on a train with rose colored windows, like decades ago? So, many parents are vulnerable and unprepared. Then, when they’re well into parenting, they are likely overwhelmed, for they can’t spank the overt stress away, woo it away, or love or away.
The 50 moms that have contributed to this book are furious about not being told about possible stress. Someone who’s supposed to be the professional, the clergy, the organization, or the counselor chose a code of silence about how the mother/child relationship may be unintentionally stressful. Listen to their words as they share publicly.
Cindy Coisterson, mom of six adopted children, who were adopted at the ages of four days old, 3,4,5,11, and 13, describes the strain. “I had no idea about the stress that could occur.”
Single mom, Lauren Whiting, says, “Eighteen years ago, no one told me. No one prepared me. I didn’t even know to look for it. The non-intentional, stressful relationship that surfaced blindsided me.”
Pam Mittenberger says, “I didn’t learn about the mom-child relationship until I was in the thick of it.”
Amy Briarwood says, “No. No one told me or mentioned anything like it.”
Peggy Jordan says, “No one ever made us aware of these things. I fully believed with all my heart and soul that my love could take care of any challenges that may come.”
Jenny Mosier says, “I don’t recall learning about that relationship specifically. If I did, it probably would have been from an Empowered to Connect Workshop.”
Of course, no one prepared Retha about this reality either, which leads me to the conclusion that things haven’t changed much in adoption ethics since then. How sad is that?
As I give this more thought, I think of young men and women who want to join the Marines. They are told when signing up that they must endure many battles. Of course, they’re told they could lose their lives while defending their country. If the Marines do this for their soldiers, why can’t adoption professionals do it for prospective parents? They might say something like this-”You must know that you’re adopting a child who has suffered relinquishment trauma before you ever saw him. Adopted babies, children, teens, and adults will likely have special needs resulting from the great loss of the First Mom. Your child may become suicidal at some point and want to end his life. Knowing all this, if you decide to continue with the adoption, we’ll do our best to prepare you about how to handle it for the good of your child.
How Adopted Kids Communicate Strain
Remember the two mother and child variables from the last chapter? The relationship depends on the child’s level of trauma and the mother’s ability to self-regulate in the midst of a crisis in order to provide nurturing. The 50 moms were eager to share how the stress shows up in their mother/child relationships:
Comfort Your Child About Strain
You will see as I apply the four characteristics of our unintentional relationship that there was much going on inside my heart, much acceptance and even glimpses of love, that I wasn’t aware of.
My side of the unintentional relationship:
Retha’s side of our relationship:
Foster New Openness About Strain
With new research about the brain, has anyone shared some of it with adopted children? I wish Retha did. I would have like to have known:
If Retha had chosen such an approach, my rejection of her might be gradually derailed over time. I know I”m out on a limb here, but please hear me?
I wish Retha would have talked openly with me about my part in the strain. Why was I doing what I was doing? It would have helped me understand why I stole clothes from a neighbor’s closet. “Sweetheart, I wonder if you scratched “I love you, mommy” on my dresser because you maybe wanted me to know how much you love and miss your First Mother?” Or, “Maybe you stole clothes from so-and-so’s closet because deep down you believe you were thinking that your Dad and I stole you?”
This challenge may be intimidating to you, Moms. In order to do this effectively, you will need a deep comprehension of what’s really going on in your child’s mind and heart. Moms should examine how current struggles lead back to relinquishment, which is the biggest hurt for the adopted child. We will come back to it repeatedly in every chapter.
Here’s a great example from Amy Snyder:”I remember one particular day when my daughter was 16 and very angry at me for asking her to put on a more modest shirt before going to a tennis class. She went ballistic and screamed, ‘Why does it always have to be about you?’ I sat speechless as she ran to her room. Her reaction was not in line, so I sent a quick prayer for wisdom and God graciously gave a swift answer. I calmly knocked on my daughter’s door and asked if I could ask her something. I asked, ‘Is that something you want to yell at your birth mom and can’t, because she isn’t here?” My daughter collapsed on me in tears and we got to cry together because of her pain. God used this moment that could have divided us to help bond us.”
Of course, we admire Amy’s wisdom, but where did she get it? Did she get a masters in counseling? I don’t believe so. Another means of gaining accurate knowledge is from hearing the honest sharing of adult adoptees who are healthy. It’s here that you can learn how to speak the heart language of your adopted child. There will be ideas of how you might gain entrance into that opportunity at the end of this chapter.
In 1999, when my book, TWENTY THINGS ADOPTED KIDS WISH THEIR ADOPTIVE PARENTS KNEW was published, an adoptive mom read it and decided to write her reactions on the margins of every page for her daughter residing temporarily in residential care. “I didn’t know this...wish I would have.” Or, “Please forgive me for not knowing what to do here.” Her daughter was totally shut down in depression and suicidal tendencies. The professionals had tried everything they knew of to get her to open up, but nothing worked. However, when the daughter received and then read the book and her comments, she opened up and began her healing journey.
In conclusion, Retha gifted me with a non-abandoning heart over the years by living by these goals:
A Truth to Embed: My acts of love aren’t lost and don’t depend on my child’s level of receptivity.
A Story to Remember: Chicks In Forest Fire
That rare gift of a non-abandoning heart can be illustrated by this story about a forest ranger who was surveying the results of a forest fire in California. All the mighty redwoods were but an ash heap. Kicking his way through the ashes, he came upon a mysterious clump, which he kicked to the side. Immediately, baby chicks scurried out from their dead mama’s body.
What a mom she was. She refused to leave her offspring even though fire raged around her. She accomplished her life’s mission and legacy of gifting her babies with a non-abandoning heart. What a mom she was to those scurrying chicks…and what a Mom my Mom was to me. And, what a mom you are.
What Moms Can Do
Just as the Mom whose daughter was totally shut down crafted an icebreaker book, you can, too! Get a copy of TWENTY THINGS ADOPTED KIDS WISH THEIR ADOPTIVE PARENTS KNEW, and journal your thoughts to your child in the margins. This tool will be a great way to open conversations about why your child is stressed.
2. Draw your own chart of the unintentional relationship. You will need two sets of columns--one for your child, and one for you.
3. Read or Listen to Adoptee Memoirs
4. Write Your Own Version of the Non-Abandoning Heart and the Fire
The setting is that you’re the mama eagle in the forest with her eaglets. Then, the fire in the forest begins. What is the fire for you? How do you demonstrate your wings protecting your eaglet from the fire? What is the result of the fire, for you and your eaglet?
3. What other moms who are experiencing this strain do you know? Who are they and what is the frequency of contact with them?