A while back, our family attended a music rehearsal led by Bill. I entered the building after everyone else to find my daughter sitting separated from all the other kids, looking very pitiful. When my husband told the kids to sing, she was one of the first ones to stand, singing with a smile and boisterously doing all the motions. I went to my daughter and let her know she was to sit and not sing. After she sat, another mom, who had already been watching my daughter with sympathy, stuck out her bottom lip, stared stonily for the remainder of rehearsal, and went out of her way to talk to my daughter afterward but not to me.
Some of you may feel as though that mother was justified. Our behavior toward our daughter looked pretty darn harsh.
But I’ll fill you in on the rest of the story.
In the hour and a half my daughter had been awake that morning, she’d broken the rules six times. Each time, my husband asked her what she’d done, and with a look of defiance she’d answered him correctly point blank with no sign of regret. Each time, Bill reassured her that we loved her but that we couldn’t let her to act this way or disobey. Finally, he told her she wasn’t allowed to sing for rehearsal that morning. She would be allowed again next time, but on a day where she was already bent toward defiance, it wasn’t going to work. That was it.
Neither of us told her she had to be separated from her friends. Neither of us told her she couldn’t talk to anyone or play or laugh or have fun. She just couldn’t sing. So what did she do when we got to rehearsal? She separated herself from everyone and then sang proudly.
This is what my daughter does. When she believes she can get sympathy from others, she’ll jump at the chance, even giving up things she enjoys to do so. She’s a master manipulator. Many adopted children are.
Is my daughter more evil than my other children? NO! Manipulating is simply her main struggle, and it has to be dealt with in a unique way. We don’t hate her. I’d already wept for my daughter that morning and was close to tears during the whole rehearsal. My heart breaks for her. I want good for her. But so far she hasn’t accepted that good. And we don’t believe she’s going to accept it if we give in to her every personal whim or stop correcting her and let her do her own thing or allow her to continue to believe she can control other’s emotions for her own personal gain.
So why this story if I’m focusing on supporting the adoptive parent? Because I need you to know that you’ll see us do many things while parenting our children, but you’ll rarely have the full story. This is true whether we’re dealing with adoption or not. But when it comes to manipulation, the point is usually to make themselves look as pitiful as ever and make their parents look as wrong as ever. And it’s easy for adopted children because they’re adopted. Most people automatically have the feels for them and show them special attention anyway. And the kids know their parents are under the microscope. The observers may be there out of curiosity, support, or judgement, but they’re always there.
Many times you’ll think we’re being too harsh with them or being unfair. And sometimes you’ll be right in your assumption, because unfortunately that’s often the case. But if you’re concerned, I implore you to simply ask us. We’re usually glad for an opportunity to share our struggles. We, like our children, are desperate for a listening ear, for a friend who wants to understand and who loves us even when we screw it all up.
Because I’ll give you another inside story. Almost every adoptive parent is in a state of shock. Some of us handle it better than others (I’m definitely an other), but we’ve all had a wake-up call. We’re terrified, our shoulders are tensed, and we lose much sleep.
We don’t know what we’re doing. We judge ourselves more harshly than anyone else ever could. We doubt our decision to adopt in the first place. We wonder if our kids wouldn’t have been better off staying where they were than being cursed with us as their parents.
One word dominates our thoughts: Failure.
And we’re never going to tell you any of this because we see how much you sympathize with our child, how much you love her. And we love you for it. But we also believe you’ll automatically assume the worst in us if we ever open up to you because of your sympathy toward them. So while our friends are working to make our child feel included, we as parents become more and more isolated and lonely.
So how can you support the adoptive parent? First and foremost, work for understanding. Listen to your friend, and if your friend is anything like me, understand she’ll only talk to you about the bad, hers and her child’s. Know this isn’t descriptive of most of their life. She’s actually done tons of awesome things as an adoptive mom, she’s grown tremendously, and she and her child are much closer and improved since day one. Sometimes they flat out enjoy each other. But she’ll be too guarded to tell you any of that because she’ll always be on the brink of losing hope. She won’t be able to see the good because she’ll only be able to see the dominating word of failure.
So listen, but not just to the words the parent says. Listen to everything, knowing there’s so much more to the story. If you’ve seen good God’s worked in them, tell them. Don’t make things up or say, “I’m sure that…”, but be specific with real observations. Know that every glare, even if not meant for them, can crush them for days at a time.
Most important, encourage them in the truth of the gospel. Remind them that all their failures were already paid for on the cross. Remind them that their child has a perfect Father and that you’re unable to ruin them or make them great. Remind them that they’re perfectly loved, and nothing can separate them from the love of Christ Jesus, even their own failings.
And it doesn’t hurt for you to remind them you love them, too.
Here are all the posts in our adoption series:
- Getting Real About Adoption
- Loving the Unlovable
- Sin in the Adopted Child
- Support for the Adoptive Parent
- Broken-Hearted Parents
- Some Clarifying Thoughts on Our Adoption
- Examining Adoption Resources (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 1)
- Normal and Healthy? (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 2)
- A Matter of Foundations (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 3)
- The Sins of Neurology (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 4)
- Idol Swapping (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 5)
- Setting the Course (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 6)
- Another Way Forward (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 7)
- The Therapy Our Children Need
- Who Are You Calling Normal?
- Optional Adoption
- How to Adopt for Almost Free (And No Fundraising!)
- What About “Those” Kids?
- Trying to Make Them Lovable