I’m Not a Lunatic or Saint: Why everyone should consider adopting a foster child1
I am so happy to be able to share about adoption this month! This is the month my adopted daughter and I celebrate the seven year anniversary of her moving in with me, as well as her 20th birthday, how appropriate that this is also National Adoption Month.
I became the foster mother for my daughter the month she turned 13. I was 27 and single. Some people thought I was crazy, others considered me a saint, and the truth is that I was neither. You see, something happens when you start to know kids in foster care. There comes this moment with certain kids where you see their future laid out before them, the future of a child placed in the foster system, without a forever family to call their own. Once kids start to age beyond seven or eight and they’ve been in multiple foster homes, you see it. Trauma can cause a child to become exhausted, angry and, at times, difficult. They push and then they pull. They have a good day only to sabotage it. You feel a glimmer of connection and understanding with them, only for them to become more hostile and withdrawn than ever….and it can lasts for days. They start refusing showers or boycotting certain foods. They want control any way they can get it. It’s hard—really hard—to care for a child in these circumstances.
When you are on the outside looking in at the foster parent who is starting to give up or break down, you grieve. You see the potential of the child and something clicks for you. If this kid doesn’t find a family, you can almost see what is in their future. They will become a statistic. They will be raised by a system that, in spite of its best efforts, may not be able to heal them. Relationships and families heal. Some of these children will end up in group homes. And if they are lucky, they will graduate high school and maybe make it until age 20 without having a child, dealing with a mental illness, obtaining a criminal record or succumbing to a major substance abuse issue. Even if they make it that far, someone will have to connect with them if they are going to continue on with some measure of success; a worker, mentor, friend, significant other, family member or coworker will have to be there for them. As people, we aren’t made to live untied to others. We need family and community for our identity, to provide us with comfort, love, and to help instill our values and to help us to feel safe. No person—especially a child—is an island.
So it is here, when you see this child facing this uphill battle, that you ask yourself if there is any good (enough) reason you cannot be their family. Not everyone can foster or adopt a child, but sometimes people are capable of far more than they think. I was an unlikely candidate to become an adoptive mother, but I understood the need—it was so palpable that I could taste it. I was tortured and conflicted by this need. I wrestled over the decision to adopt for months before I chose to move forward. The need to give this young girl a real home was something that I simply could not ignore.
Let me tell you, adoption is not easy. I recently attended an extensive training on all the clinical issues associated with adoption and at the end of it, I thought to myself, “why would anyone want to adopt?” It’s hard to share a kid. It’s hard to put in the years of work it takes to prove to a child that you aren’t going to be another person to leave them. It’s hard to fiercely love a child who is so banged up and bruised by a past that you may never really know. But Adoption is so beautiful. In spite of all the pain and hardships that can accompany it, I have never been a part of anything so spiritual and life giving as adoption. To fight for someone; to lay your life on the line when the outcome is not guaranteed; to love in the face of rejection—these are the hardest and best parts of this life! You will graft your family on to another and they will graft themselves on to yours. You will never find another calling that teaches you more about yourself, which forces more change, which grows more compassion or which causes you to understand what keeps you going in terms of faith and support.
One day, it happens. You start to see that you are indeed a family. It starts small but it happens over and over again. You see the miracles, you feel the physical sensation of bonding, you notice the small moments of vulnerability and trust between you, and it is like you’ve won the lottery.
For my daughter and I, the war is won. We are attached—we love, trust, laugh, fight and make up, and we challenge and change each other without the fear of abandonment. We are family. There are days that we regress into old patterns. There are traumas that are yet to be exposed and healed. There are hard realizations that our histories have not always been intertwined, BUT the war is won! No one can take attachment away. This kind of love cannot be unlearned. It’s the most beautiful, necessary thing in the world and I would have missed it without my daughter.
Consider adoption this November.
Consider what foster care and adoption for older children might look like in your life.
Take it from me, it is the hardest and best thing you will ever do.