We love our kids unconditionally. To us, the absence of a biological link to them does not matter. Our children are the offspring of our hearts and souls though not of our bodies. We would do anything–everything–to keep them safe. When we hear that April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month, we sigh with relief: our kids have landed in a family where they are safe, loved and protected. We need not worry about abuse. “It happens to other families, not ours.”
However, from the personal experience of now-adult adoptees, we’ve learned this isn’t always true. Abuse can take many forms: physical, mental, emotional. Sometimes it occurs at the hands of relatives who appear loving and accepting on the surface but who actually relate to our kids as “less than” or “different from” their other [biological] relatives.
Imagine what happens when extended family is not fully accepting of adoption. How does this impact the child? How does it affect us and how we relate to relatives who are cool, aloof or distant from our children?
What happens when “family” appears to accept our children but in their hearts they relate to our children as “less than”? What about those who are outright rude and intolerant? That happens too.
How does a child feel when we allow “family” to treat our kids poorly/differently or when we dismiss it as untrue or unintentional?
When we make excuses for Nana’s prejudices, (That’s just Nana …”) we may think this softens or neutralizes the hurt. But consider how our children feel about Uncle John’s distance, or Aunt Sarah’s judgmentalism. The experience is real. And it is remembered. Not acknowledging the truth, does not remove the hurt. It is our responsibility to protect kids from such injury.
Yes, we hope that eventually our extended family will come to fully accept our kids. But it may never happen. In the interim, we must ensure that we protect our children.
Our core strategy must be truthfulness. First with ourselves, then with our kids. When we candy-coat or deny our children’s experiences, we damage the fundamental relationship between us. Instead of looking to us for safety and honesty, and validation, they receive mixed messages. “Grandpop doesn’t mean to …” When we don’t acknowledge that bio-grandkids receive more attention, better presents, more time and attention than our adopted kids we deny their reality, their intuition, and their judgment. Even at a young age, kids sense when they are not being accepted. They may not have the vocabulary but they do experience the pain. We cannot pretend it away. Covering a cow patty with frosting doesn’t make it dessert. Such wishful thinking only makes it worse for our kids.
Imagine how painful it is when kids realize that we expect them to subordinate their feelings, that we have chosen kin relationships over them. Without being told in direct words, they understand that we expect them to tolerate comments and interactions that demean them for the sake of maintaining extended family harmony. That is quite a price for us to ask our kids to pay. It is, in fact, a form of child abuse.
Intentional parents will be honest with their kids when relatives fail to treat their kids with the respect, acceptance and affection they deserve. This means holding a firm boundary and avoiding certain people until they change their attitudes. Educate relatives on how they can become adoption-attuned and support you and your children. Give family a chance to change but shelter children from hurt until that change has occurred. In your own family, what have you experienced regarding less than 100% acceptance of your kids? How did you handle it? With this new level of awareness, what, if anything, would you do differently?
Finally, to reflect back to our two prior blogs, consider those whom you have chosen to be part of your family emergency support system. How adoption-attuned are they? Are they completely accepting of your kids? If not, who will you choose instead? . Any prospective resource must authentically respect and accept your child as “family.”