Thursday, April 28, 2011

Grief and the Adopted Child

Today, Lan Lan is working on a scrapbook, carefully placing her pictures from China.  Her tears are turning to smiles.

We've been seeing more grief from Lan Lan the past few days.  It's hard.  And the hardest part is knowing there is no way I can fix it--and as a parent I want nothing more than to protect my child from her pain and sadness. 

And yet, perhaps, one of the bigger mistakes we make as adoptive parents is trying to "fix" our adopted child's grief--to deny it, to cover it up, to take our child's mind off it, to minimize it, to distance them from it.

Instead, we need to allow our child to experience it, and to find a way to live with it.  That is easier said than done.

Last year, an adoptive parent sent me an e-mail asking when her son would quit feeling grief.  She felt sad and personally responsible.  She said that she was giving him a life full of love, laughter, happiness, good food, an amazing education, and even Disney vacations.  And yet, there were times he still cried for the orphanage he had left behind.  She couldn't understand how he would miss an orphanage that was dirty, overcrowded, lacking food and toys. 

To answer her question, I think we need to imagine ourselves in a similar situation.  Pretend we suddenly became movie stars and were whisked off to a beautiful castle in another world, complete with a personal trainer and chef!  We had maids, butlers, a race car, entertainment, horses, doting fans, and even big screen TVs in the bathroom (with continual re-runs of Oprah and Grey's Anatomy)!  We were even given a new, perfect family. 

How would we feel?  Would we become homesick?  Would we miss our loved ones?

Some parents might argue that their child didn't leave loved ones behind, didn't have a family, didn't have anyone who loved them--and in addition, their child experienced abuse and neglect.  I would gently suggest that even in families (and orphanages) where children have experienced abuse, they still have love for their parents (or caretakers).  Children who are taken into protective custody in the US still cry for their abusive parents at night, because along with the bad memories there are good ones.

And even in a "bad" orphanage, there was almost certainly someone that our child felt connected to.  It may have not even been an adult, it may have been another child. 

Our kids miss their previous caregivers, friends, familiar surroundings, language, foods, and culture.  And they always will.

It isn't our job to help them forget, but to allow them to remember and to support them through those memories.  To help them heal from the bad ones and hold on to the good.  To validate their feelings, yet keep them moving forward into their new lives, filled with an abundance of life and love.

Not to replace what they left behind, but to build on it.

Sunday Snapshot


Sally-Girl! said...

Great post!!! I love it!!!

Amy said...

Amen! So beautifully said!

"Are These Kids All Yours?" said...

PRAYING for her. Grief is sooo hard for family who want nothing more than to wipe it away, but you are soo right you have to let them work through it. Even when it rips your heart out. Great way to explain it.

Stephanie said...

This is such wise advice! I would love it if we could have your permission to share this post on "We Are Grafted In" ( It is a Christian adoption website/forum. If you are willing to let us repost it, we would just need a picture and a brief biography to use in the reposting. Feel free to contact me with questions and/or to let me know if you are willing to share your post.
Stephanie (smurphy28 @
co-administrator of WAGI