One of the questions that I ask when teaching and training potential foster/adoptive parents is, “What do you think is the most critical thing you’ll need to be successful in your journey as foster/adoptive parents?”
The #1 answer is always…
These four simple letters form the most powerful word in the human language. Love is a driving force in all of our lives. It motivates us, comforts us, causes us pain and gives our lives meaning. But, is it really the most critical thing you need to be successful in your journey as foster/adoptive parents? I asked that very question of some seasoned adoptive/foster mommas and, together, we came up with a few very important aspects of “all we need is love”…
What is your definition of love?
“I think it all depends on what a persons definition of LOVE is. Is love putting a roof over a child’s head, providing clothing, toys, entertainment, taking them on vacation, being there for them when they need it? Or is it much more than that? Is it providing consequences to teach them how to live life? Is it living through the ugly and dirty moments when we feel such hate being slung out way? Is it moving on with each day even though we don’t have strength to even look at the dirty dishes in the sink? I feel that it’s all of the above and more. This is HARD because our children come from HARD. I believe the knowledge of this needs to begin with the original training foster and adoptive parents receive before a child is placed with them. Although we never truly understand what it takes to raise a hurting child until we are living with them day to day, I feel I had a better starting place than most. I had empathy for my children and I knew that it was going to be HARD. My love has been enough, but then my definition is probably different than most.” Tracy Whitt, Adoptive Mom (Check out her great blog at www.lovinadoptin.com)
I love Tracy’s response because, all too often, our definition of love looks like snuggles on the couch in warm PJs, fun and laughter over summertime watermelon and picnics or bright, happy faces all-dressed-up for Sunday morning church. We imagine the fun we’ll have as a family, the things we’ll be able to give our future children that they’ve never had before, and how great their life will be simply because they now have us as a family. The problem with that view point is that it’s totally wrong.
The reality is that with all foster care and adoption – there is loss. These children have lost their family, everything they’ve known, everyone they know and they didn’t choose us. We were chosen for them. To be honest, that totally sucks.
As we redefine love we must start at the very core of our expectations:
Love Requires Everything:
“Love has nothing to do with what you are expecting to get – only with what you are expecting to give – which is everything” ― Katharine Hepburn. When we truly set out to love another person we set out on a journey to give them all of us, every ounce we have to give – even when it’s overwhelming.
Love Is Investment:
“There is no safe investment. To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket — safe, dark, motionless, airless – it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.” C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves. To truly love someone is to allow our hearts to be broken for them and by them. A true investment kind of love places our hearts into the hands of another and knows that they won’t always treat it with care. Our children come from very hard places and don’t know how to give or receive love because they’ve never experienced it. The journey to love is an investment – it’s often years before we see a return.
As Debbie Mum pointed out in our discussion, there’s often a darker side to adoption, one in which you do everything in your power and the hurt in the child is just too deep – it can take years to move beyond the pain and many tough decisions along the way, “we went through hell with our adopted teenage daughter. It was much harder than I ever imagined but we did everything we could for her.” In the end, it wasn’t until their daughter was older and out of the home that stability began to build in their relationship. This is an investment. In this journey, that has to be okay.
Love Is Messy:
“Love can change a person the way a parent can change a baby — awkwardly, and often with a great deal of mess.” Lemony Snicket, Horseradish: Bitter Truths You Can’t Avoid. To love in this way is messy and awkward – there’s not an easy solution, a clear path or concise set of instructions. You dig in deeply to know your child, understand their past, figure out their triggers and prove to them that you can be trusted and that love is safe. The messes turn into runaways, rage, rejection, stealing, hoarding and more. From the very beginning you must prepare yourself to be a janitor in the lives of your kids. Love cleans messes – big and small.
“Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind.” Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Love becomes an expert on the object of its affections. Too many families enter this journey before reading a singe book or article on the impact of trauma and loss on children, attachment, depression and PTSD. To love our children is to know them, not the idea of what we want them to be, but who they truly are. This means we become professional parents – we educate ourselves, we don’t just achieve our required training hours, we go way beyond. In this journey, learning never ends. The more I learn, the better I love.
All they needed was a family, look how much you’ve done for them…..
“I have 2 children (siblings) adopted through foster care, placed as an emergency placement at ages 3&6. They’ve been with us 2 years, adopted for 1. I knew going in that the “all they need is love” concept was totally wrong, so I never expected that. But what really hits a nerve with me now are the casual friends/random strangers who look at our family, see how awesome our kids are and spout the dreaded “see, all they needed was a family to love them! Look at how great they are!” I feel like that whole concept completely discounts their history, invalidates their pain and doesn’t give them any credit for the hard work they (and we) have to do every. single. day. And the thing is “love” usually isn’t even in the picture when we first get our kids….we are all fighting and working so hard with the hope that love will come, not because of the love we magically feel on day one. Thankfully love did come for us, but it wasn’t magic it was LITERALLY blood, sweat & tears that brought it.” Julie Bealer, Adoptive Mom
Julie brings up a great point, that those around us don’t fully understand and can unknowingly invalidate or hurt our children through words that they mean as comfort. We should take the time to educate our friends and family on how hard this journey is for our kids. To love our children is hard work. To receive our love is even harder. Credit must go to our children for working hard, adapting, learning new skills and bonding – it’s hard.
I have loved this discussion among so many of my friends in the foster care and adoption arena; I’d love to continue it. Leave a comment and let me know your thoughts on love…