When I read Teaching Your Children Values by Richard and Linda Eyre, I was a young mom and knew that I did, indeed, want to teach my children values. Even as I opened the book to read, I felt the book was a little unnecessary. I mean, wouldn’t that just come naturally? Teaching our children how to be good people? I’m a good person; they will be good people. I was so naïve. Four children later, I realize that parenthood requires day-by-day, intentional actions. Parenthood isn’t just something that happens to you and you go with it. It’s truly my belief that if you are doing it right, it is a job that is taken very seriously with long-term and short-term goals in mind. It is HARD and IMPORTANT work. It takes not only a lot of love and compassion, patience and forgiveness, it takes determination, constant vigilance, and strategy. Parenting must be intentional. ALL parenting for ALL children. No matter what gender, race, biologically related to you or not. Interactions with our children must be intentional.
So ten years after putting that book on my shelf, I had the opportunity to attend a small evening presentation by the New York Times best-selling Eyre duo. They proceeded to outline a few things we should and shouldn’t worry about when it comes to our children. I was entertained by their outgoing personalities and interactions with each other and the audience. But I also enjoyed their message.
One part, in particular, stood out to me. They discussed the importance of creating a family culture. Why? Research has shown that children grow into emotionally healthier and happier adults when they come from a strong family culture. So no matter what happens at school, work, or church, if these children feel connected to their individual family, they report being much happier. And we create strong a strong family culture by spending time together and creating traditions. As we do these things, we are creating a family history that our children will remember for years to come. These traditions may or may not be passed down, but they will most certainly share the memories with their own children — your grandchildren. Can’t you just see it now? Your son sitting on the couch with his daughter as he says, “Ya’ know, when I was your age, we used to…”
These family stories are really essential. In fact, studies show that sharing family stories is a key factor in children have a good self-esteem and instilling the feeling that they are able to persevere through hard things. Family stories? Yep. “Your grandma used to walk 5 miles, in the snow, with no coat, uphill, there and back.” Come to find out, those stories that used to make you roll your eyes may in fact be the stories that have helped you become a strong individual, because these aren’t just stories. They are pieces of your family and whether you’re aware of it or not, you identify with those characters of the story on a very personal level. You understand that you come from the same stock. Even better, is when we hear those stories and how they were able to overcome. I love that.
A child who has been adopted has two different family stories.
But it also got me thinking? What about my children who are adopted? My kids know that they aren’t biologically related to the people in these stories. How do I continue while also making sure they understand they are included in our family? What do I do? After the presentation I attended a meet and greet. I talked to both Richard and Linda Eyre about this topic, and the answer was very simple. Richard was pulled aside for a picture, but quickly came back and said to me, “This is a very good question and very important. The answer is both. You need to share both their biological and adoptive family stories.”
It made so much sense, I felt kind of silly for even asking…as if there would be a different answer. A child who has been adopted has two different family stories – the one that created him and the one that grows with him. To ignore any part of his story is to ignore an entire part of that child.
“And what if you don’t know about his birth family?” Again…simple answer. “Then you acknowledge that part of him.” Phrases like One day I will try to help you find out whatever we can, if that’s what you want can mean the world to a child. For now, there is little we know about two of our kids’ birth families. So until we know more, we share the info we do have. We tell our daughter what her birth mother was like when we met her. She has a warm soul and is full of compassion. We tell her about her birth mother’s bravery and remind our daughter that she has inherited that. Our son is still an infant, but already I’m telling him about his birth mother, some of her challenges, and how she was able to overcome and push forward. She’s tender and full of love, but also a fighter…so is he.
I pray that our children will always know how we love and honor their birth family and that they understand how we feel about every part of their story. We feel when we adopted our child, we grafted their first families into our family tree…the family tree that is constantly growing…the family history from the past and that we continue to create together that holds that tree upward. I know this isn’t all we need to do in order to help our kids feel a part of our family, but hopefully they will have a deeper connection within themselves and internalize their strength and value in our family and in this world.