What lies within

(drawing used with permission) The other day my 9 yo brought me this picture and said she’d drawn it for me. I looked hard at it, trying to make sense of the face in the drawing and said, ‘Wow, she has long eyelashes.” Though I couldn’t figure out why my daughter had drawn the eyelashes only UNDER the eyes.

My daughter pointed to those marks under the eyes and said, “Those are tears. She’s crying because she misses her first dad.”

And suddenly there was a quaver in her voice and I held out my arms and she came into my embrace for a long snuggle and a talk about her feelings.

If you know my daughter, you’ll see a bold, sassy, confident little fireball, a child who sings exuberantly and bosses freely and looks very secure in her own skin. She came home from Ethiopia at 6 months of age. She doesn’t have any conscious memories of any life other than the one she’s living now. And yet under all that boldness and confidence and true, honest happiness with her life, still there are feelings about her adoption, and sometimes very deep longings for the family that she doesn’t even know.

I think it’s easy for adoptive parents to assume that if kids seem happy, if they are doing well in life, if they don’t mention their first family, that all is well, and there’s nothing to talk about on the adoption front.  But being raised by a family other than the one into which you were born is always a very big deal.

Sure, there are kids who navigate the duality of that life very well.  But we can’t assume they aren’t struggling just because they aren’t talking.  We can’t assume that they aren’t processing hard feelings about that reality.  We as parents need to gently, boldly go there with our kids.  Sometimes that may mean broaching the subject even before they speak of it, making it known that they can talk to us about ALL their feelings, even the ones that are tangled and jumbled and unclear, even the ones they fear might seem disloyal to us.

Tangled feelings are a huge part of being a human, aren’t they?  Let’s talk with our kids about how it’s possible to be happy and sad within the very same soul, about the very same thing.  Let’s talk about how you can deeply long to see the face of the one from whom you were born, while still also holding precious the momma who doesn’t look a bit like you.  Let’s also remind ourselves of that truth too, mommas. The heart is a big, big place, able to hold so much, and ever capable of growing even more.

The more we can offer ourselves up as safe havens to our children, the more likely it will be that they’ll come to us when their hearts are confused or sad or burdened. Sometimes we may miss opportunities, or speak at moments when children are not quite ready to go there themselves.  But gently presenting ourselves as willing listeners– and as fellow strugglers on this confusing journey of being human– is also a great gift.  And what a great privilege it is when they truly allow us inside, allow us to help sort and treasure and honor all the feelings they’re holding, both the hard and the good.

Having fun being an auntie

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  1. Wow, that’s full of valuable insights! Thank you for sharing those intimate moments.

  2. Lovely post. Lots of truth here! Our daughter started asking hard questions at age 4 and one month. She was adopted at age 9 1/2 months.

  3. I am learning that every day, under and behind every interaction, thought, conversation is the grief and loss. That layer is under every word spoken and unspoken. Just because I don’t always see it doesn’t mean it doesn’t mean everything.

  4. defaultlisa says:

    This post brought tears to my eyes. What a great moment to help your daughter work through some of those strong feelings!

  5. My daughter was adopted from China when she was 16 months old. She cried about missing her birth mom several times between the ages of 5 – 8. I held her and we also talked about her feelings.

  6. One does tend to think that someone adopted in infancy would bypass some of the feelings of loss and grief that those old enough to remember “before” would have. Thanks for the reminder that this is not the case. I’m not walking this path right now, but the door is still open for it.