Three years ago, my wife and I made the decision to adopt a child, and in learning to love her, I’ve never been more disappointed in myself. It all started when my wife encountered a little girl in her kindergarten classroom. One and a half years later we were compelled by circumstances to step in and attempt an adoption. We had always talked about adopting a child in that “one day we should…” kind of way. However, due to the nature of my wife’s job, she became privy to the way this little girl’s life was shaping up to be, and it began to weigh on her heart. With this child’s situation thrust into my wife’s face, she brought home the story looking for comfort.
If this blog doesn’t make it self-evident, then believe me when I say I carry an uncomfortably large ego. From my perspective, it’s not malicious, but at this point, it must be clear that I fully realize the role my selfishness plays in my life. I cannot abide the feeling of helplessness. In my career and life, I struggle with listening without conceiving potential solutions. This is a terrible trait in a husband/friend who’s job -at times- is to listen. Just listen.
That night, I listened, had an empathetic conversation with my wife, and proposed a solution. “We’ve talked about adopting, let’s adopt her,” I said. I even remembered saying “We can be the kind of people that talk about it or the kind of people that do it.” She suggested we foster with intent to adopt.
One of the best things about my wife is that she can look past the hubris I display by thinking I can fix something after a short conversation and ground our decision-making process. I am not trying to be hard on myself, but when it comes to my half of this decision, Ego and Hubris are what drove my thinking because anyone with a heart would have been moved by this little girl’s situation. However, I wanted to be this little girl’s hero, but more than that I wanted to be my wife’s hero. For my wife, the course of action was still less clear, I think. I imagine that for her it was easy to say let’s adopt the little girl if she only considered what was best for the little girl, but much harder when she considered what was best for our family. Specifically, our two biological children. When I think back on it, I feel she drew on my confidence about adoption as a key factor. I suppose I should ask her someday.
Over the next few days, we reached out to a foster care agency we had previously learned about through the State Fair. Through them, we learned about the process involved in fostering and adoption and what we would need to do to get this little girl moved from one foster care family to us. As with any process, there are long ways, and there are shortcuts. After getting the details it was clear the shortcuts had risks, so we decided to stack the odds in our favor. We completed a specialized six-month course called MAPP. We institutionalized our home for Foster Care. We had many meetings and evaluations and interviews. All in all, it took us a little over a year to have this little girl placed with us as a foster child and six more months to adopt formally. Once we started, the momentum and stubborn determination were not going to let us stop until she was part of our family.
For the record, my wife and I are not stupid. We both had no visions of love at first sight. We knew this was a decision and I remember us saying that we needed to approach this like we approach our marriage; there is no exit strategy, there is no divorce, and so far, this has been exactly what we’ve done.
It’s difficult to admit, but I ping-pong between regret and triumph more than I feel I should. I didn’t expect for this little girl to arrive and invoke such discomfort. I took for granted that my biological children are “of me”. As such, I have a powerful natural and self-centered connection with them. I took for granted that they smelled like they were mine, they think like they are mine, and they have every compulsion and desire to be loved by me. This little girl walked into our house a stranger. On some level, I expected that, but on another, I presumed the more our home became her norm, the less foreign she would become. I’ve never been more wrong in my life. This isn’t about surface behavior. That’s easy enough to manage because well… we are adults and we are smarter than her. It’s about who she is. Through no fault of her own, she has built her personality around what you have to do when your childhood to date is structured around monthly meetings and living with multiple people who she had to call mom. All of them saying they love her (and maybe they did/do), yet pushing her out when things got difficult. One of them going so far as to medicate her. For her, love was rendered meaningless, beaten to a bloody pulp long ago. For her, forever has a shelf life. Ultimately, this has shaped a little girl whose concept of a relationship is based on the best way to get what she wants from you. She has allowed herself to become so profoundly numb that nothing is worth investment. Summarized, we opened our home to a human in desperate need of love and consistency that had already given up on it in an unconscious way. Imagine the freedom that gives a kid to lie, sneak, manipulate, hoard, steal, falsify their way through life.
She has allowed herself to become so profoundly numb that nothing is worth investment.
We never thought she would be perfect. We never thought it would be easy. We did think we would establish a connection quicker. It did not happen that way. Albeit that every day our connection grows stronger, at times it feels like that progress has come at too high a price. Like the time my youngest was introduced to a very adult concept of a penis far too early. Or how my oldest can at times hide because he cannot stand the manipulations acted upon him by her. That’s the regret that creeps in now and then. Other times, the progress feels like an explosive triumph. Like the look on her face when she asked my oldest if he loved her more when she helped him with the dishes and he replied with “I love you all the time. I just like you more when you are not a jerk.” She was goofy happy for a day after that.
When it comes down to it, I think my oldest captured what I have been struggling with the most. We have grown to love this little girl very much. She is ours. I just don’t like her very much when she is a jerk, and this was a new feeling for me as a father. To date, I have not felt that way even once about my biological kids. I think my wife and I carry copious amounts of guilt because of it. Funny though, this little girl seems to treat the guilt a little every day.
The plus side of all of this is that she has loving parents, home, caring siblings, loving grandparents, and a life that has and is creating memories that will make her smile. So if you know me and you want to help. Please transition your mind to a place where your empathy for her gets shoved into the darkest corner of your basement. She is definitely deserving of your empathy and the special treatment it engenders, but it’s not practical for her healing. We cannot remind her of what made her numb. We cannot let her tragedy define her. We are filling her cup with joy, fun, and success. Now it’s time to help her rise up, and that means, that for everyone else she is just your average kid with nothing holding her back. Not even her past.2