When a child comes from trauma, they have a heightened awareness of the world around them. Words can not only be hurtful, for a child who has a painful past and is always on alert, they can cause other fears or bring underlying ones to the surface.
For years we struggled with what family members said around our adopted children, it was as if some of them had no filter (well, truthfully, they don’t). I’m sure many of you can relate, whether it’s family, friends, or acquaintances you run into consistently, some people simply aren’t aware of what their words do to our kids or us.
Our daughter, Payton, used to worry a lot. For two-and-a-half years, one of the many things she obsessed over was our cat that passed away. We believe in heaven, so we told her he’s there and that Jesus is taking good care of him (let’s not get into theology here okay:)), but that didn’t ease her worries.
Certain people in our extended family didn’t recognize her fears, her fears that reach far beyond her cat passing away. They used words, such as “dead,” and “killed” flippantly while relaying stories, or even directly towards her, warning her of something dangerous that could happen.
While Payton was in close proximity, one family member told a story, saying, “…when a child is dying of a disease.” We didn’t need Payton worrying about something else! Children dying? What’s a disease? Will I die of a disease?
Children hear everything. You would be surprised, and probably have been on many occasions, by what they’ve repeated to you, when you thought they were busy somewhere else, engaged in an activity while you talked. Because of where our children come from, they worry, and we have to be careful about the words we, and others, use around them.
Find ways to ease the realities of life, because death, fire, and disease do happen (we don’t have to carry around a loud speaker and announce it). There’s a better way than telling your little worry wart, “If the house burns down, and our dogs are inside, they’ll die.” (Yep, this was said on more than one occasion.)
Others in your child’s life might believe that a child has to learn about the world sometime. They might say things like, “It’s life.” This is not okay, especially if a child has a predisposition to fear and concern in their everyday life. Frankly, my child has lived a “life” far more embedded in reality than most anyone who says this. Be thoughtful in your approach (although this statement kinda makes me want to yell), and help guide others in how to speak to your children.
Another way people can really harm our children is by what they say or ask us in front of our kids. We’ve heard them, and numerous articles have been written about them. I even addressed this in my post, The Fascination with Adoption, which I suggest reading because it helps lend a little understanding to where these questions are coming from. “Are they siblings?” “Why did you adopt her?” “What’s his story?” “I couldn’t do what you’re doing/you did.” “How much did they cost?” “Why would you adopt from (country) when there are so many children here who need homes?”
I didn’t mind many of these questions and comments when my kids were younger, because they didn’t understand. I was also naive many times and thought if I talked quietly my children couldn’t hear. Wrong. Most often those asking aren’t being rude or offensive on purpose, they’re curious and the more education I can bring to our world, the better it will be.
But, answering some of these questions and responding to these comments while our children are near isn’t beneficial, and our kids are our top priority. Here are some ideas on how to respond:
“Are they siblings?” I’ve been asked this a few times. If we say, “No,” then our children will look at us like we just mentioned the Brady Bunch. If we say, “Yes,” and one child is Asian and the other is Caucasian, well, it can get awkward. My response to this is, “They are now. They aren’t biological siblings though.” I’ve watched as a light dawns in the persons eyes. Hmmm, yeah.
“Why did you adopt them?” Well, you can give whatever answer you’d like here because for each one of us that answer varies. For some the answer is simpler, “There are (# millions) of orphans in (country) so we wanted to adopt.” For someone who adopted through foster care, you can decide what information you want to share if your children are present and IF you want to share at all. Or, you can make it about adoption or foster care in general,
“We decided not to have biological children because there are so many children in the world who need homes.”
“What’s their story?” Same as above.
“I couldn’t do what you’re doing.” I’ve heard several answers in the adoption/foster community circling about this one. Many adoptive/foster parents would say, “Anyone can do it,” but frankly not everyone can. No, I’m not a saint. No, I’m not perfect, sadly and to my husbands and children’s dismay, I’m far from it. But, I know I couldn’t do this without my extremely supportive husband. There are numerous people who start down this road and quit, they even have children in their home and they quit. So, no, the answer is not, “Anyone can do this.”
However, I will say that I didn’t think I could before God changed my heart about foster care. I was full-speed-ahead going for China when my husband mentioned fostering, and I said, “No way!!!!” So, my answer would be, “You might be surprised,” and if my children aren’t present, I add, “I didn’t think I could either.”
People really don’t realize what an impact saying,”I couldn’t do what you’re doing,” has on our kids. It didn’t really dawn on me for quite a while. They’re essentially saying that what we do is hard, and what we “do” is our kids. Do you get that? It comes across to our kids as, “I couldn’t take care of those kids and do what you’ve done, because that looks damn hard.” Yikes! Okay, let’s put it this way. What would it be like if someone said to your spouse (while giving a sideways glance at you), “I couldn’t do what you do everyday!” Oy, that hurt.
“How much did they cost?” Again, up to you and how much personal information you want to share. You may not want to comment around your children though.
“Why would you adopt from (country) when there are so many children here who need homes?” I could give you a long dissertation here, but I would like to allow you to go on with your life. My response when we were on our path to China (you can read about that on our Our Story page) was, “I believe God created the world, not only the United States, and that we should care for all children. If we don’t adopt them, who will?”
*I titled this post in this way so you could share it with others.
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