I trudged to the front of the group, my palms clammy and heart racing. The gym was overcrowded with sweaty kids, a typical 90’s summer day club. The promise of good times and trying new activities had become disillusioned for me quite early on. My quiet, slightly pudgy 7-year-old self had won the attention of the camp director. And since attention was neither appreciated nor desired, dread—not laughter—filled my summer days.
I wasn’t surprised I had been called to the front. Several weeks had conditioned me for what was going to happen as I approached the grown up holding the microphone.
“Boys and girls, you remember Naomi, don’t you? Isn’t she pretty?”
I didn’t want to hear what was coming. I didn’t want to be there. I just wanted to go home.
“Pretty UGLY!”, the camp director yelled as the gym went into an uproar of laughter.
I looked at the grey rubber gym floor on the way back to my spot, intently aware that every eye was on me as the laughing continued. Plopping down, I willed myself to disappear in to the crowd. Only 5 hours before I could go home. My safe place, where my mom and dad would have been outraged if I’d had the courage to tell them what was happening every single day. The joke was only a small portion of the repetitive, daily humiliation at the hands of the person in charge of protecting all of the children in the camp—my quiet, slightly pudgy 7-year-old self included.
“I am failing. What kind of mom is so terrible that her kid HATES her??!” Tears ran down my cheeks as my husband looked at me, stunned.
“What are you talking about?” He asked quietly. “Why do you think he hates you?”
“You aren’t here all day! You don’t know! He yells and rages and throws things. He won’t speak to me, or even ask me for anything. He hates me.”
I didn’t know what we were experiencing was just the beginning of an attachment struggle for our son. What I did know was that the familiar sting of rejection had me retreating, and fast. My heart was torn to pieces by the daily break downs, and obvious preference our son had for my husband.
Rejection and Adoption
We had done extensive training before beginning the adoption process. I had read numerous books, blogs, and studies. I understood the consequences of trauma and separation for young children. I knew some of the techniques used to encourage bonding between child and parents. What I didn’t know was that trauma triggers trauma and unresolved issues in the heart of an adoptive parent can negatively impact attachment.
Adoptive parents who are doing their homework know that rejection is a major area of concern for our kiddos. But did you know that rejection of adoptive parents is also common? When children are finding their way through a new family, routine, and home it is normal for them to test boundaries and push people away. It’s the time directly following the honey-moon period (if you even get one of those), when your child doesn’t view you as the safe, loving, protective parent you are striving so hard to be. Instead, they view you as the enemy who has changed the world they know and everything in it.
When we take the time to look at adoption from a child’s perspective, it makes perfect sense. When you can be objective about the continuous testing and rejection, you can see it for what it is: a hurting child seeking to hurt the person closest to them. A child testing the strength of your will and resilience of your love. And when we are able to perceive these things, we can remain committed to hearing our child’s heart through their actions.
But for many—maybe even most—adoptive parents, this type of daily rejection is exhausting. I, personally, went through stages of emotions towards being rejected by my child. First, I was confused, I didn’t understand why my child was rejecting me. Next, I was sad. My heart ached to know my child wasn’t feeling any affection towards me whatsoever. Frustration came next—wondering what else I could possibly do to help our son. Finally, the overwhelm of exhaustion left me feeling defeated.
A life-long struggle with feeling rejected, unworthy, and like a failure had been blown up by the daily rejection I was experiencing at the hand of my child. Instead of remaining objective, I began to shut down emotionally in an attempt to protect myself from pain.
When we push things down inside, attempting to ignore or forget about them, they don’t disappear; they simply gather. When we have experienced times of deep rejection, we must confront them. To heal from pain, we have to process it.
How can we process pain?
- Acknowledge the time(s) that have caused us emotional, physical, or spiritual pain.
- Address the way these events have impacted our lives, and seek the help of a trusted loved one or professional to help you through this.
- Forgive those who have hurt or rejected us. Forgiveness is not saying what happened is okay; or that you are okay with what happened. It is simply saying, I refuse to let what happened govern who I am.
- Choose to believe the truth of God’s Word over the lies of rejection.
Each of us will experience rejection during our lives. It’s the human response to feeling unwanted or unvalued by others. Unless you live in a bubble, this unfortunate interaction is certain to occur. Why? Because hurting people hurt people. Insecurity is almost always the driving force behind rejecting someone, and that insecurity can come full circle, enveloping us during a time of rejection, if we do not purposefully resist it.
How do we resist rejection—especially from our children?
- Speak truth. What does the Word of God say about you? Remember: the value of something is determined by what someone is willing to pay for it. Father God placed so much value on YOU that He paid the price of Jesus’ life for you!
- Dwell on the pure and lovely. Days will be hard—some may seem impossible—even then, you can purpose to think about things that are pure and lovely. Where have you seen the faithfulness of God? How has He shown you more of His love and grace recently?
- Practice gratitude. Keep a gratitude journal, make a quick list, or simply say aloud the people and things are you grateful for! What is going well right now? Who has been an encouragement to you?
- Look for the good. In every situation and person, look for the good, and dwell on that. (See point 2!) Where is your child excelling? What improvements—small or big—have they made in the past month? How is your child using their God-given gifts for good?
The grace of God not only frees us, it empowers us. Grace is not weak or mousy, it is bold and unrelenting. When we reach the end of ourselves, we are undone not by overwhelm, but by His grace that sustains us. By giving grace freely, we allow the love of Jesus to flow to, in, and through us.
How can we give grace?
- Speak words of life over people—yourself included. Declare truth, profess love, and point out positives.
- Don’t keep records of wrong. Don’t let every little thing pile up into a steaming pile of rottenness. Bitterness is in direct opposition to grace.
- Create opportunities for wins. Instead of having crazy expectations for yourself and others, set reasonable goals. Stop trying to do it all!
- Remember the grace given to us! It is only when we embrace His perfect grace that we can give it away!
Hope for Hurting Adoptive Parents
If you are an adoptive parent, and your heart has been hurting, please know you are not alone. This journey is life-long, full of ups-and-downs, and can turn everything we thought we knew inside out. The hope we have is in Jesus. He is steadfast, faithful, and kind. When trauma sends everything into chaos, we can stay steady, because God is the same yesterday, today, and forever. It doesn’t mean everything is easy—or even simple. But it does mean that we can find peace that doesn’t even make sense—peace that stays even when the storms rage. Peace that remains in the trenches, and climbs the mountains of celebration with us!
There is hope for healing for our children—and there is hope for healing for us. When we confront issues from our past, experience the secondary trauma of our children’s stories, or sustain trauma, abuse, or rejection during our adoption journey, we can process the pain, resist rejection, give grace, and find hope! Not because of what we do, but because of who God is—a faithful, loving Father who knows the fullness of grief and restoration of healing.
Naomi Quick loves Jesus. She is married to her best friend, John. They have six amazing, beautiful kids, two of whom have been adopted from the foster care system. Naomi homeschools their tribe of world changers. She is a type-A, list-making, change-fearing girl living an adventure that demands flexibility, spontaneity, and constant change! Naomi is the author of Don’t Waste Your Wait: Embracing the Journey of Bringing Your Child Home. She writes over at her site, Living Out 127, and has done a number of speaking engagements and trainings for prospective and current adoptive and foster families.
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