Have you ever seen a group of kids walking around in matching coats with a team logo on the breast? What is that all about? Belonging. In a very simple, basic way the kids in the matching sports jackets are marking themselves as belonging to a particular group. This helps to provide a sense of stability and security.
Belonging. Is there anything we need more than that? It is absolutely amazing to me how restorative, how healing a sense of belonging has been to my girls. As soon as we met Justice, we knew she belonged with us. Since she was so little, as soon as Justice came to us she knew she belonged. Justice had not experienced as much trauma as Tapanga, and so she quickly adjusted to her knew home. As I mentioned in part 6 of our family’s story, Tapanga realized that our situation was potentially temporary. Tapanga had a complete understanding of what it meant to not be in a permanent home. Although Tapanga loved Hugh and Sally, and they loved her, she knew that was not her forever family. Despite the temporary nature of her placement, she showed progress in her behaviour because she was given love and stability. When Tapanga moved in to our home, her behaviour again progressed. As I mentioned in Part 5 of our story, some of that progress was temporarily lost when Justice joined our family, and Part 6 revealed lost ground during my pregnancy with Brock.
Dylan and I wanted with all our hearts for the adoption papers to come before the baby. It only seemed fair, the girls were here first, they should legally be ours first. However, Tapanga’s insecurities were not only the result of not having her adoption papers. Deep within her there was another level of uncertainty: what a biological baby would do to the family structure. Would we still love her the same when we had a baby “of our own”? When Brock arrived we, and our entire family, did everything we could to ensure the girls knew how loved and important they were to us. There was time spent with each girl separate from Brock. Gifts for the baby and for the girls came from near and far. Our entire family made sure they knew they belonged, adoption papers or not. Brock’s arrival changed nothing in how they were loved, even before they legally belonged. The papers mattered so much, but they were the ribbon on the present, the final beautiful touch. I wanted the papers first, but I think it really was better this way.
The importance of belonging. I don’t have sufficient words to describe it, but I can tell you this much: the arrival of Brock and our adoption papers flipped a switch in Tapanga. She was almost immediately back to herself; her true self.
On the last day of kindergarten her teacher walked up to us and said: “Tapanga, you are not the same girl you were in September, and I mean that in a good way. You’ve grown and changed so much, it’s just wonderful to see. I’ve really enjoyed watching you grow.” I subtly asked the teacher if Brock’s arrival had changed anything and there was not the slightest hesitation. “Yes, oh yes!” Brock’s arrival and the adoption finalizing brought closure and certainty into the girls’ previously uncertain world. They belonged.
The statistics on adoptable children absolutely break my heart. There are currently about 78,000 children in the social services system, and of that about 30,000 are eligible for adoption (http://www.adoption.ca/myths-and-realities). Take a moment to let that sink in, or better yet, scroll the profiles on the Alberta Human Services page: http://www.humanservices.alberta.ca/adoption.html I would never advocate a family enter the adoption process because they feel sympathy for these children. Sympathy will not get you through the hard days. Compassion and love will, but sympathy will not. Adoption is challenging, and not everyone is called to adopt children. To raise an adoptive child you need strength, courage, and most importantly, love.
Being adoptive parent is hard, because being a parent is hard. When you become pregnant with a child, you do not know who you will be given. You do not know what challenges may come. Will my baby be healthy? Will he have any behavioural challenges? There is risk in loving that little being you have created with your spouse, but I think we can all agree it is worth it. Parenting is worth every struggle and tear. So, yes, there is risk in adoption, because there is risk in parenting. There are challenges, but it is worth it.
Did I mention parenting is hard? All parenting. The challenges we face with each child are different, because each of our children is different! Adopting a child will present challenges that you will not face with your biological children, but there will also be joys you do not get from biological children. We are always told, “Oh, it’s so wonderful what you’ve done for those girls.” No. It’s so wonderful what we’ve done for each other! Tapanga made me a mom, and Dylan a dad. We were entrusted with these delicate, damaged girls. We were chosen to redeem them; to provide the stability and love, the patience and kindness, the belonging they needed to become the girls they were created to be. What a privalege. What an absolute honour it is to be their parents.
Adoption is not for everyone, and I know that. If you have been considering adoption, if you feel called to it, please think again. Please consider your time, your resources, your capacity for love, and your tenacity. Please consider your extended family. I do not know where we would be without the love, support, and acceptance we have found in those closest to us.
Some might think that if an adoptive placement does not “work out” the child can simply be sent back. Please, for the love of the child, think again. While the child could be sent back, that should only be considered in the most extreme cases. And maybe not even then. These children have already suffered separation, rejection, and likely a number of abuses. The traumas experienced may lead to a child rejecting you at first. However, more often than not, these challenges can be overcome with time, patience, and love. Where our efforts fail to help the child adjust and bond, counselling can be so beneficial. Tapanga saw a counsellor for a few months when she was younger, and without that help I do not think we would have worked through our hardest days as quickly or successfully.
If you are wondering whether or not you could adopt a child, the question is not could I love someone else’s child as much as it is could I unconditionally love someone else’s child. Could you put that child’s belonging before everything else for a period of time, until he is adjusted? If sending back a troubled child still seems up for debate, I have one final question; would you give up on a biological child during a challenging time? If acceptance and belonging could be negotiable for an adoptive child and not a biological child, adoption is probably not for you.
If you are still with me, if you still feel you could unconditionally love an adopted child, if you have the strength and support needed to get you through the days you may want to quit, I have just a few more thoughts for you to ponder. I encourage you to ask yourself the same questions you would ask before trying to conceive a biological child. Am I ready to face a potential loss? Can I afford another child? Do I have the time to invest in this little person? Am I ready to face some potentially challenging situations? Do I have a village behind me who will love my child unconditionally? If you can answer yes to those questions, and you have been considering adoption, please think again. Think yes again.
Please think about what your yes would mean to a little girl or boy. What yes could mean to an older child who has very little hope of being adopted. Please remember the importance of love and stability. Consider the absolute value of a parent welcoming a child into their home and heart; the value of a parent redeeming a child’s life. I cannot properly express what our unconditional love has meant for our girls. I cannot put it to words, because I have no idea what it is like to not belong. But they do.
When you say they’re so fortunate to have us, you’re not wrong. There are so many children who have not been given a second chance, and some never will be. Children who will age out of the system and enter the adult world without the anchor of a forever family. So no, the statement “they’re so fortunate”, is not incorrect, but it is incomplete. We are all so fortunate to have each other. Not one person in my family would be the same if any of my children had not joined our family.
Each of my children belongs, and that is the most precious gift any of us can give or receive.