A Refresher on Loss

Carmen D. Lade

As we prepare for another little one to come into our household, we have been reviewing old memories of the first time we adopted. Our two adopted children are teenagers now and they have a different perspective than they have in the past. More aware now, they are considering how they felt when they came into the family at ages 5 and 6.

Tim and I are looking back at all the ways we worked to make them feel wanted and accepted. We are considering the hours of role playing we did (along with Ezra, who at the time, was eight years old) to be able to respond to disturbing and often violent behavior. The conversations and debriefing that happened at the end of every long and usually exhausting day were full of frustration but also encouragement and acknowledgement of milestones.

Everyone in the house has been doing fairly well for a while now. We have what we would consider to be normal push-back from hormonal teenagers but on the whole, things are good–I guess you could say, normal. BUT, there are things that happen that in the back of my mind I know I could prevent by approaching my kids in a similar way to how I did when they first came home. The problem is balance. How do you know what is coming from feelings of rejection and what is just plain old sin? I think any parent whose child has been traumatized has to struggle with what is trauma and what is just being a rebellious human. Unfortunately, those people around us who are watching often feel as if kids should have “gotten over it by now”. When that happens the temptation is to discipline the same way everyone around you is and you miss an opportunity to address the real hurt and work toward healing. On the flip side of that however, an even bigger question I’ve been grappling with lately is, am I making excuses for my kids when they mess up?

We have been going to family counseling to prepare for this adoption and our counselor agrees that children with trauma backgrounds often relapse in their teenage years. It’s been good to hear that. (Not because I want them to relapse but because it confirms my suspicions.) It’s been good to hear that we aren’t crazy for being cautious about coming down too hard when the back-talk starts. All that to say, I feel like we are a bit rusty. These kids have been ours for almost 8 years now. They belong to us and we have bonded the way a parent SHOULD bond with her child. With that comes a sense that we are done with the “special” parenting part but that isn’t necessarily true.

I’m thankful that we are going through the training again. Thankful for the reminders that trauma doesn’t just “go away”. I’m glad for the renewed conversations and honing of rusty skills. On one video we watched the therapist emphasized that parenting adopted children is distinctly different from parenting biological children. It comes with emotional baggage on both sides that just isn’t there when you physically give birth to a baby. Instinctively I know this (as I assume most adoptive parents must) but it is good to hear it from someone else. I know too that their pain isn’t gone. It hits them, like any grief, at unexpected times. It does come out in bad behavior but also in obvious shows of grieving.

After all, they still cry about missing their old foster family. They still have terrible memories of neglect and abuse. Loss, for them, began early and they still suffer from it. The question in my mind then is, how much to focus on the loss? It isn’t their whole life. They have many good things going on–many good things to look forward to.

We take it as it comes then. When the loss and grief stare us in the face, we respond and in between we laugh and love and have fun. Isn’t that the way we should always approach life?

“Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life? Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest? Consider how the wild flowers grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you–you of little faith! And do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them. But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well. Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom.” The words of Jesus in Luke 12:25-32

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