First, let me short-circuit any alarm that this question might raise, perhaps particularly in the minds of newly (or aspiring) adoptive parents. I love my kids – and I do think of them as “my” kids, even on the worst days. I know my husband feels the same way. We would do anything for them, even take an extra turn taking out the trash or cleaning up the dishes when we just can’t summon up the energy to enforce the chore chart. Which, depending on your point of view, makes us loving or lazy parents. Take your pick.
I’ve often thought about this question as I’ve been elbow deep in dinner dishes, and I’ve decided that, just as my feelings for Chris and Sarah (and theirs for me) shift from day to day, it’s very likely that it would have been the same way for a biological child. It might have been easier to connect and bond with a child who shares my DNA, I don’t know. What I DO know is that for the past fourteen years, I’ve tried to act loving even when my feelings didn’t measure up. Because that’s what you do when you truly love someone.
This is a lesson we’ve been trying to teach the kids as well. Like many teenagers, they have conflicting feelings about their place in the family at times. (And at times, those feelings seem to target their sibling, with whom they share a genetic link.)
Now, loving under these circumstances requires a certain kind of stubborn stick-to-it-iveness that is very different from the warm-and-fuzzy devotion that kept us plodding through that sleep-deprived haze of the first year. It can be a bit like hugging a cactus, actually. Is it the same as what biological parents of teens experience? I don’t know.
Then again, it doesn’t really matter, does it?
When the kid snarls at you (like many teenagers do), or wishes aloud that they didn’t have to live with you (ditto), there can be underlying dynamics that are unique to adoption that make the barbs especially painful, and the instinct to love that much harder to find on a purely human level.
That’s when I’m most grateful that the love comes not in feeling loving, but in the doing.
It’s about being empathetic and not give in to misgivings that “I’m not enough” when a child inexplicably bursts into tears at a scene near the end of “The Good Dinosaur”: “I’m sorry you’re sad. I wonder if this scene of the boy and his family reminded you of your birth mom. Is that it?” (Emphatic nods. Extra cuddles.)
It’s about stifling the eye roll when an outraged child accuses us of expecting them to be “perfect” and refusing to join in the family Rosary one night. “Of course we don’t expect perfection. That’s WHY we pray the Rosary. We all need all the help we can get. Now, go and sit by your father and listen quietly, or join in if you wish.”
It’s about not giving in to resentment when your teen reminds you that she is OUT OF HERE the moment she turns eighteen, “Yes, I know you would rather live with ____.” (I know some bio parents who have had similar conversations.) “In four more years you can make that choice. In the meantime, you need to fold the laundry.”
I’m not sure that it honors the nature of the bond between adoptive parents and their children to insist that we love adopted and bio children “the same.” Can you really love any two people the same way? Isn’t it possible that the family dynamics are colored by the circumstances that brought them together?
Having never had biological children, I can’t say for sure. In any case, I’m not sure that loving any two members of my family “the same” is something to aspire to. I think a better question is: Am I loving my child (bio or adopted) the way he needs me to love him today?
Please, God . . . help me to do just that.