Can We Honor Our Adopted Kids By Honoring Their Birth Parents?

They gave us her picture.

Right there amidst the triple copies of court documents and health histories.

Right there, in the beigeochromatic box of a family services conference room.

Without anticipation or expectation, she was suddenly staring back at us. The black and white printout clearly taken from a state database, grainy and overexposed with shadow.

Even so, she looked out with her round cheekbones and the exact eyebrows of her/my son.

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Lately I’ve been wondering what it looks like to honor our adopted sons and how we can allow them to grow with the most unfractured spirits possible.

The more I allow all possibilities to that question, the more my heart chases the whisper that the answer lies in honoring their birth parents.

Can we create invitations for their spirits to be as unfractured as possible as they carry the knowledge or heartache or shame they couldn’t offer enough safety/sobriety/nurture to their children?

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The wind keeps whirling this idea back to me.

Honor our children by honoring their birth parents. Give them all a chance to be whole.

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I hate this because it requires emotional elasticity from me.

Do I have the energy to choose the harder way? Do I believe love expands infinitely and is expressed in infinite ways? Do I believe parenting is the long game based on small actions now? Can I find the tension between rock-solid boundaries and liquid scoopfuls of grace?

I hate this because it runs counter-intuitive to a mother’s blind rage to protect at all costs.

Didn’t they have their chance?! And yet…the longer I am in this foster care world, the more I believe it is a child’s right to know about and know their birth family (in the increments it remains safe and emotionally healthy for the child.)

I hate this because I have to crush my ego and my desire to reduce complexities into binaries I can label “good” or “bad”.

I do not get the luxury of seeing time in a vacuum without the deep realities of our American history and how race, cyclical poverty, blocked access to education, and current politics play heavily into why I sit at a table telling the state I legally promise to be Nurture Mommy while Birth Mom remains as voiceless as her pixelated picture.

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I allow myself the freedom to not have answers right now. There is no map.

For now, there is time.

For now, we focus on all children in our home feeling attached and safe. For them to believe they belong, are chosen, and known.

For now, I slide that paper with her picture onto the top of the pile knowing what a treasure it will be in the discussions to come with her/my boys.

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Dear Daughter, So The Bullies Came Today

Hey there, Big Sis.

I want you to know I see you trying to navigate fourth grade and I see how much emotional energy it requires. I see how you give to this family. I see how the storyline isn’t focused on you very often and how graciously you allow space for that. I see how you are an old soul trapped in a child’s body and suffer fools constantly. I see you.

I see the attentiveness you give your four younger siblings. (Thanks for slipping Little Sister’s library book into her backpack today, by the way. TK library day is not on my radar.) You’re always so observant of others to meet their needs. Perhaps that’s why it stings a little sharper when peers cannot reciprocate.

Do you know the way you notice details and anticipate needs is a gift?

Last night you shared the names they are calling you at school. Whispered breaths just beneath the teacher’s ear. Mocking comments in a passing line. Fellow fourth graders weaponizing “smart” and slinging as an insult to cut you down.

Even as I imagined slapping nine-year-olds, even as we gave statistics for why and when girls stop speaking up during class, even as we validated the raw hurt of your feelings, you offered such empathy and insight.

But I hope you know you never have to justify your mistreatment because another person is threatened by your intellect.

Let me tell you a secret, my love. They will come for you for being “too smart” and they will come for “not smart enough” and they will come for you for “wrong jeans” and they will come for having the “right jeans”. There is no escape. No matter what, the critics will come.

While this is not a new road of hurtful words to navigate, I am still heartbroken I do not get to fix it for you. I cannot shadow you. I cannot be there to intervene. We do our best to teach and tend to you at home then have to stand back and watch you enter your own arena.

Honestly, I’m not concerned how you respond. Ignore them. Confront them. Roll your classic eye roll. Punch them in the throat.

Whatever you do, just remember they do not have a say in your worth. Do not question your giftings. You have been hand-crafted and ingeniously created by the Designer of the Milky Way.

Smarts happens to be your gifting. Your brain is lightning. Your gifts are your superpower. Use them! Give them! Never be ashamed of them. That is the award. Not the hundred percent math tests or standing for school-wide writing accolades. Those are periphery.

The gift is living within the flow of who you are and not apologizing for it and not diminishing. In your young-heartedness, you already do this without holding back. Do not let their names and mean whispers teach you to withdraw. Do not shy away from being fully who you are. I watch you live and could weep with how you are teaching me to do the same.

Of course, you know our family does not care one lick if you are the smartest kid in class or if you come home with post-tests covered in red marks.

We care that you are the one sitting next to the new girl from Saudi Arabia being a friend in a new country.

We care that you follow through with your responsibilities to lead recess games with the kindergarteners even after your peers bail.

We care that you carry your sister’s lunch box every morning to lighten her load and listen to your brother’s stories under the oak tree every afternoon.

God, sweet girl you are strong. Do you know that? Shine on, my fiercely smart, fiercely kind girl. You, my preteen daughter, are fire and magic and all that is the best of us and you better believe I will hitch my wagon of hope for the future to you every dang time.