There is no doubt in my mind that adoption is miraculous! The coming together of separate lives that eventually meld together to form a family is beautiful. Much like a marriage, these people take the different characteristics, habits, beliefs and cultures, melding them together to recreate the definition of themselves.
When this process is successful, the story has a happy ending and the various characters in that story are enriched and strengthened by it. On the other hand, when the bonding doesn’t happen, irreconcilable differences result in separation and pain. So what causes that blending to happen, or not?
Recognizing the fact that families choosing to adopt are doing just that, choosing. They want to adopt, they want to bring a child into their home. The home is established prior to that child coming into it. There is a culture in every home. A “frame”, if you will, that provides the boundary around the picture of that family. The people in the picture may not consciously recognize how elaborate that frame is. The frame is made up of many elements. Some of it was brought to the family by each member before marriage, such as; hopes, dreams, expectations, childhood abuse or trauma. These elements work together to create the identity of each person within the family. Then there are the dynamics that define the family as a whole; infertility, religious practices, parenting strategies/beliefs, losses, etc. All of these play into the hopes and expectations that we have for the child coming into the home. Subconsciously, we often think that this child will, given enough love, learn to adjust to this framework.
Then we have the child, who fundamentally has no choice or power. An individual with many elements that have worked together, and are still working, to form who they are. This child, especially if they are not an infant, has a history that plays into their identity (see my blog at http://www.aplaceforhome.com/blog for more on this). Their culture, religion, personality, hopes, dreams, expectations (yes, they have expectations of you, too!), losses, trauma, etc. all blend to make a pretty amazing bundle!
So now we try and fit these two dynamic elements together. Each person in the family coming to terms with this new person, who they are, who they are not. Hopes and dreams being molded into reality. Unfulfilled expectations gnawing at us and hurts resurfacing. All are a normal part of the re-adjustment period. No amount of pushing, pulling or praying will get that bundle of child to fit into the framework of your family without changing the shape of that frame! We must be willing to accept that our family will no longer be what it was. The family that we knew before, is gone and a new one has taken its place. This process can take 3 months to many years, depending on the child (especially age and level of previous trauma) and the family.
That isn’t a bad thing. In fact, it can be a pretty amazing and wonderful thing, if we are willing to allow that change to happen. We also need to be open to grieving the loss of the family that we knew before. Our roots have been ripped up and moved. That is never an easy thing. Everyone will struggle a bit, sometimes a lot. But then one day, you will wake up and see that your family now has a new identity and its pretty cool!
A good friend and seasoned social worker once said, “The families I find to be most successful in adoption are the ones who see their family as a pliable unit, and parenting as an art, rather than a science”