I wish that I could say that there is no difference in parenting an adopted child and a biological child, but that wouldn’t be an honest thing to say. I can say that on the day-to-day issues, there is no difference that isn’t related to children who have very different personalities needing to be handled in different ways. Eating your meal before you get dessert, being nice to your siblings and family pets, taking care of your toys and books, doing your homework...in these things, there is no difference.
But, no matter the age of the child at adoption, there are going to be “issues” (for lack of a better term) that will have to be addressed. MJ was not quite 9 months old when she was placed in our arms in that Civil Affairs office in Nanchang, China. She was left to be found when she was only one day old, according to estimates from the orphanage. (I feel okay including that because that part of her story is shared by so many other Chinese adoptees. I will not, however, include any more details.) She spent most of her first 9 months in a foster home, until that day that she joined our family. We have a few pictures, but other than that, we know pretty much nothing about those 9 months. So, even though she joined our family at a young age, there are holes in her story. We do think she has (or at least did have) some early memories. When she was around 22 months old, we met another family with a daughter the same age from the same SWI. Both of them had been home for around a year, MJ a little more, and her friend a little less. Those babies had evidently played together because they acted like 2 children who knew each other and played together regularly. Pretty spectacular, actually, and a genuine “God thing,” but that’s another story for another day.
MJ, for the most part, is a very securely attached child, but even with her, there are attachment issues that we see. The biggest one is night terrors. She has always had night terrors, and as she has grown, they have become much less frequent. However, she still has them on occasion, but now they are accompanied by sleepwalking. It is a frightening thing to see your child, completely hysterical, wandering through the house, and totally unaware of what she is doing. We’ve learned a lot, just by dealing with this. We know the trigger now that will start the process of ending the episode, and once that happens, and she starts calming down, she cuddles in my lap for awhile, and then we carry her back to bed. She never remembers in the morning. (Edited to add: I do realize that night terrors and sleepwalking occur with children who are not adopted. We have some specific reasons for believing that in MJ's situation, they are adoption-related.)
And there are the conversations...the ones that hit you right between the eyes from the middle of nowhere. Lately, with MJ, it has been, “Why can’t some mamas take care of their babies?” Our policy is to answer her honestly, and in an age-appropriate fashion. So for now, that means telling her that sometimes there are grown-up problems in the world that have nothing to do with children (thanks, Tonggu Momma, for that one), and I have also explained to her about the one child policy in an age-appropriate way, along with some other possible reasons for abandonment that may not even be related to the one-child policy.
I was looking back, the other day, at some of the written interview paperwork I had completed for our homestudy, those several years ago when we were paperchasing. Back then, I considered myself fairly well-informed, but as I read, I realized that I had so much more to learn about parenting this child who would be ours. Life is a continuous learning process, and this is no different.
I read this blog post the other day, and I have to say, I love the image she uses from the book of Isaiah, “the repairer of broken walls...” What an image! Parenting MJ is a special gift from God. I am so blessed to be Mama to this vivacious, energetic, inquisitive girl.
Parenting an adopted child isn’t always easy, but I would do it again in a heartbeat!
(As an aside: I generally cringe when people distinguish between my children as adopted and biological, but for the purposes of this post, it was kind of necessary.)