I’m a little late posting this week because we had a tragic death of a thirteen-year-old girl in our neighborhood, a friend of my daughter’s. We won’t know what happened until they finish investigating, but her parents found her dead in the bathtub last Monday morning. Our close-knit community folded in around the family who still has one adopted and four biological siblings.
I had the honor of sitting with the mother two days after her daughter’s death, the day she went into her daughter’s bedroom for the first time since the drowning. I say it was an honor because it felt like a sacred space to be there as she unleashed her agony and to be able to hold some of it for her. I have never heard such agony. I had never heard a mother mourn her child like that. I hope I never hear it again.
I often think of the bond I have, or wish I had, with my adopted children. Over the nine years we have been a family, we have overcome nearly insurmountable obstacles–with the help of a reactive attachment therapist, a horse therapist, and various medications as needed. I have the strongest bond with my son whom I received at sixteen months. I changed his diapers, watched him take his first step, taught him to read and make his bed. With no biological children of my own, I can only imagine that the bond I have with him is as close to biological as possible.
Then I think about his older brother and sister whom I received when they were eight and five. They came in hating me, fighting me, and wanting their “real” parents, which continued for many years. Just today, our therapist was trying to help my fourteen-year-old daughter see me as a real person, with real feelings that can be hurt by her behavior, especially her unwillingness to trust me with the truth.
The bond I have with the older two feels like it starts higher up in geographical space, is more delicate, less comfortable. The best way I can describe it is as though they are cherished friends who’ve come to visit, but with whom I still maintain a level of vigilance unnecessary with my youngest son. They feel like company, and it’s only after they leave for school, or go to bed that I feel like I really relax. You know, that feeling of when you’re finally home for the day and can put on your jammies.
I wish it were different, I wish I could love them enough to make the bond all by myself. They’re more willing to accept my love and to trust me a little, but there’s no denying that they simply aren’t healthy enough (yet) to permit a fully vulnerable bond between us. I envision Sunday dinners in a few years, where they are living independently and return home out of love and a desire to be together as a family. I know that the bond will continue to deepen as they mature and become better able to tolerate more emotional intimacy.
Meanwhile, I watched my friend mourn the loss of healthy, strong, even fierce emotional intimacy and physical contact with her daughter. I won’t lie. It was one of the hardest parts of the experience for me, to realize that my two oldest children and I simply don’t have that bond.
So I did some thinking about what we have that biological parents and children don’t have. One thing I know for sure is that no one works harder to have children than adoptive parents. Even biological parents who undergo fertility treatments have it easier than we adoptive parents. Biological parents of any variety are in control of the process: they make all the decisions. We adoptive parents have to get someone to approve of us as parents to be able to make a family. Some of us are required to go to extreme steps, such as undergoing psychiatric evaluation. We may not have the bond with our children that we hoped for, but no one can take away from us the humility we offered up for our children. That says something.
And the children? What a wonderful, blissful, childhood a biological child born to healthy parents has. Most of us who adopt older children receive wounded souls that were removed from unhealthy parents and a decidedly non-blissful childhood. I’m not taking anything away from those lucky, healthy, biological children, but I think our older adopted children are very special spirits of our Father in Heaven. How many children are never rescued from situations that slowly harden and then kill their spirits? And if we’ve adopted an older child, they’ve been given a second chance. I like to think that Heavenly Father sees something very special in our children and has worked extra hard to bring them forward into a loving family.
When I think of the honor of being mother to such special spirits, I can make peace with not having such an intense bond. I know I am only the stewards of these children until they can return to Him. Faith makes me trust that I am supposed to be their mother, that they are supposed to be my children. Not for the beautiful experience that many biologically-connected parents and children have, but for our own divinely-inspired experiences that may only be beautiful in hindsight. Somehow, it will all make sense in the end, and perhaps when the scales have fallen from our eyes, and we see each other for who we really are, our bond will be the strongest of all.
Photo credit: theculturalhallpodcast.com/mother and daughter.jpg