In 18 years of parenting, tears have been shed in our home for thousands of different reasons. However, the reason that causes the most tears from me is regarding the grief my children sometimes feel about being adopted. Every ounce of my being wants to make that grief disappear. I want to heal their sadness so badly that my heart hurts. “After all,” I used to think, “shouldn’t my love for them be enough?” And yet, as the years have progressed, my children have taught me that grieving in adoption is good.
As foster and adoptive parents, it’s easy to think that our love for these precious children whom we have chosen should replace the biological parents that they lost. I once heard Mark Gregston, director of Heartlight Ministries, tell a story that illustrates this misunderstanding so well. Mark explained that he and his wife got married while in college, and shortly thereafter, they were expecting a child. Mark’s wife dropped out of college to stay home with their baby. A few years later, she was bemoaning the fact that she had not finished her college education. Mark was confused. He said, “What do you mean? We have this beautiful baby that we wouldn’t trade for anything. Are you saying you’d rather have the college degree than our daughter?” His wife wisely explained, “Of course not! I love our daughter. But her birth doesn’t diminish the fact that I would still like to have a degree.” Mark went on to explain that in foster and adopted children, the love that they have from their parents does’t erase the pain they feel from being abandoned, neglected, or hurt by their birth parents; they are two separate issues.
About a year ago, one of my daughters, adopted as a baby, articulately expressed to me just how hard grief is in adoption. She told me that the feelings of being abandoned by birth parents are very real and strong, but it was hard to express those feelings because she doesn’t want to make my husband and I feel badly. She explained that grief in adoption is even more difficult than normal grief because she can’t even be sad without feeling guilty about her sadness! Can you imagine her internal struggle? We have had several hard conversations about this, and I’m so glad we have done so; through those hard, beautiful talks, I know that she loves us in the midst of her grief, and she knows that we are doing the best we can to give her the freedom to grieve without guilt.
Letting children from hard places grieve is essential to emotional and spiritual well-being. As foster and adoptive parents, we tend to give “permission” for our children to grieve only parts of their past; time in an orphanage, abuse at the hands of a biological parent, or neglect by people who were supposed to love them are all acceptable things to grieve. But giving our children license to shed tears over biological parents is not something that is easy for us to do. However, we must do just that. If you are a loving parent who is helping your child heal and thrive in a safe environment, you don’t need to feel that you are in a competition with the birth parents that your children lost.
Another mistake that I hear parents making is that they think children who aren’t talking about their biological parents aren’t thinking about them. This is foolish. Foster and adopted children think about their past – OFTEN! So, enter into their internal conversations and find out where they are in the process. Ask them questions. Listen to their struggles. Refuse to dismiss their losses. While not easy, these conversations are essential to the emotional well-being of our children.
I am encouraged by what Psalm 56:8 says about what God does with our tears: “You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book.” (NLT) God certainly doesn’t tell me that I have to push aside, forget, or dismiss my own grief. In fact, He tells me that he actually counts my tears. God wants me to do the same for my children, who daily grieve the losses in adoption. I believe that, when I welcome their tears, they can also rejoice in the joys of adoption as well.