A few weeks ago, I attended the Hope Conference: a gathering of the adoption community in the state of Arkansas. It’s pretty remarkable to see all sides of the adoption triad come together to share their experiences and encourage one another. There is so much learning and love that happens during this two-day event, and I was thankful to be there.

I sat on an adult adoptee panel, alongside four other adoptees with very different stories than mine. The purpose of the panel was for us to share an abbreviated version of our adoption stories, and then open up the floor to let the foster and adoptive parents in the audience ask us questions. To summarize what that was like, sitting next to fellow adoptees and encouraging fellow members of the adoption triad face to face, is difficult, and requires a post in and of itself.

Similar to the adoptee panel I sat on, there was also a bio-kid panel: children whose parents fostered or adopted other children while they were growing up. I was amazed and bewildered at the emotional maturity of these kids. One of them, a boy, was probably in middle school and had such a strong head on his shoulders. He explained the way he learned to understand his foster siblings’ situations. He would be sad when they had to leave his home, but then he remembered how much harder it was for the sibling that was leaving.

The depth of empathy this young boy had for his foster sibling shook me up. Most kids his age are not exposed to the true tragedy of kids being shuffled through the foster care system. This boy has seen a piece of the love and loss that is part of foster care and adoption first hand. It dawned on me how much of an impact adoption and foster care has on the emotional maturity of kids growing up in and around it.

Imagine being a 10-year-old sitting in a government office as strangers called other strangers to see if you could live with them. Imagine being 16 years old and not having anyone to teach you how to drive. Now imagine graduating from high school and not having the support to help you apply to go to college.

Adoptees have some very hard truths to grapple with from the get-go. Looking back on my own experience, accepting a degree of rejection from my birth parents happened before I was old enough to get my learner’s permit. My mind used to swim with questions, fear of rejection or loss, and I came to understand very early that it’s okay not to have the answer for everything.  I learned that love doesn’t start and end with biological family, but moves and grows and changes throughout life.

Love and loss are two things a lot of people don’t confront until adulthood. Adoptees, on the other hand, learn about love and loss as if they go hand in hand. In my case, love meant loss, because my birth mother sacrificed the opportunity to raise me in order to offer me a better life, for the love of her baby. The love and loss that so many thousands of children grow up experiencing truly renders me speechless.

Children who are part of the adoption triad (adoptees, foster kids and the siblings they meet along the way) develop a level of responsibility and independence unlike most kids their age.  They are more aware of the complexity of families and the need for sacrificial love. Adoption, with all its ups and downs, can be a master teacher, bringing wisdom into the minds and hearts of the children it touches.