Independence wasn’t always something I was ready to handle. It was given before I even knew what it was. Foster care homes for me was a place where you had to be one of the first to get to the fridge, because once the food was gone, you were on your own. I was a 6th grader from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. and then changed to being a stand-in mom for a baby and two kids. Independence was learned early—with it came loneliness. Being able to physically and emotionally support oneself is one of the weights that many orphaned and fostered children carry. While some children grow up in love and care, these kids grow up in systems, programs, or parentless homes. Their place of shortened refuge perhaps will be their school when a teacher shows them the slightest bit of attention, unaware of the lack in their lives. For a child who experiences this, independence is linked to loneliness with the weight of responsibility. The child must figure out how to survive in a world of adult responsibilities. Often, in that place, they haven’t learned they have worth, value, or are deserving of love. Rather, they learn they stand on their own, and the only time they receive attention is when they fail. Yet, the weight of the world is on their shoulders. Their childhood robbed; their esteem is low; their obligations are a high list.
But then comes that moment where a child is placed in a forever home. She now has to fight through the walls of independence and learn to begin to trust that she can tear down her walls and be dependent. He begins to taste the love and support of another. He begins to see the weight of the world is not on his shoulders. Adoptees begin to know this: they are not on their own. They let down their guard. As they begin to trust, they open themselves up to love and loving others in return.
However, as they age, they ache. It’s close to that return to independence. Close to that time where healthy families who have produced stable children are beginning to push their children out of the nest, but the adopted child who’s known independence and loneliness first is dreading the return to independence. They fear the return to a place of loneliness, of the weight of the world being on their shoulders. Independence to them is the reminder that at a significant point in their life where they felt the most vulnerable they were often alone. Unlike the stable child who has known a lifetime of care, love, and support, the adopted child knows a place of fear, pain, and loneliness—of trying to provide, support, and survive.
So how do we support the adoptee’s return to independence when he or she starts the next phase of life? The first thing to know is the young adult you are sending out needs to know she has your support, that you are not going anywhere. He needs to understand that this time, as he steps out into independence, he is not alone. He is able to be dependent in his independence. Your adoptive child may have walked a scary and weighty path in her early years, and she needs to know this time, as she ventures out of the safety net, that your support will be there with him or her through it all. If he steps out and fails, you will be there to help him start again.
For adoptees, the return to independence can be a traumatic time if they have come from a life where they had to be the strong supporter in their early days. We can show them that they are safe to venture back into this large world because they are no longer alone. They can be dependently independent as they step into the next phase of their life.
*Visit our photolisting page for children who are ready to find their forever families.