I’m the daughter of adoption. I’m a proud and resilient adoptee.
I can say this now, but I couldn’t always. My story was once very different. I used to be an adoptee who was scared stiff of rejection, uncomfortable in my skin, and unsure of my worth.
You see, I’m also the daughter of alcoholism.
Throughout my childhood, my adoptive father was addicted to alcohol. Parental alcoholism takes a toll on a child.
My daughter, Evi, and I watched Little Women this past weekend. It’s been on our must-see list for a while. On Saturday, we set aside an evening for mommy/daughter movie night. We snuggled on the couch, pulled two comfy throws over our laps, and started the film.
I didn’t know if my girl, who’s ten, could follow the storyline but I was willing to take a chance. I wanted to introduce her to this classic story of the March sisters. From the very first scene, Evi was completely engaged in the lives of Jo, Amy, Meg, and Beth.
Early last week, I found a recording that I’d forgotten about. It’s a conversation I had with my mother when I was a freshman in college. I wanted to hear what my mom shared on that cassette tape, so I ordered a cassette player on Amazon.
It felt like Christmas when the package arrived! I opened the box and smiled at the bubblegum pink color I’d chosen. I carefully placed the tape inside the player and hit the play button.
Mom passed away in 2016, so it was emotional to hear her speak. She talked about wanting to live long enough to see that I could make it on my own. Then, she said, “I think I’ve lived that long because I feel that you could take care of yourself. I think I’ve brought you up to that point. For you, I want everything to be good and for you to never be unhappy, but that’s unrealistic, isn’t it?”
How and when do I tell my child that they’re adopted? This is a question I receive from parents who often feel panic inside as they grapple with the and how of sharing a truth that must be shared. Mothers and fathers may fear their child’s response to this truth. Will they still love me? Will they be angry? Will they still call me Mom/Dad?
Parents lose sleep over worrying about if this conversation needs to occur. There’s uncertainty in the outcome and an ever-present longing to stop the passing of time. If I could just freeze this moment and avoid the inevitable!
Do you remember being thirteen years old? Maybe you do, or maybe you don’t want to. It’s the age of flushed pimpled faces, school bullies and desperately trying to keep a wardrobe in synch with a body that’s blooming into adulthood. It’s the age of overflowing extracurriculars, Snapchat messages, and attitude. At thirteen the world is swirling at breathtaking speed. Now, imagine that thirteen year old, the same one that always forgets their homework at home, that’s preoccupied with their Math homework, the family rules, their sibling, qualifying to be on the sports team, getting the role in the school play, making straight As. Imagine that same thirteen year old trying to wrestle with, define and navigate the complexity of adoption. Imagine the difficulty of finding the right words to express the intricate, confusing unknowns of adoption in the middle of existing as a thirteen-year-old.
I walked into the children’s receiving home with my husband that crisp fall morning six-and-a-half years ago, my heart galloping in my chest. This was the day we were going to meet our children for the first time. Our social worker told us about them only the day before, and we hadn’t seen pictures or received much information. All I knew was a two-year-old boy and his six-month-old half-sister waited for my husband and me somewhere in that sterile government building. Waited for us to scoop them up and take them to safety and be their forever Mommy and Daddy. That was what my galloping heart pounded out, loud and clear and urgent.
“If I don’t give this work my all, I’m stealing from those who need my message the most.” It was a seismic shift in my mindset! Moving from being apprehensive to share my story to being 100% determined to share my story, and doing everything possible to make that happen.
It feels like, in the world today, we are prone to devalue our stories—our big, beautiful, important stories. In other words, I think we too easily lean toward silencing our voices. We tell ourselves that we don’t have anything important to say. What could someone like me possibly have to offer?
“I would get too attached.”
It’s the most common hard pass excuse we hear as foster parents or social workers.
It’s been overused as an excuse and as a blog topic. As a foster parent, you can now Google for well-crafted snarky responses to this lame excuse for not wanting to foster. We ALL know now that it is an excuse. That people who “get too attached” are exactly what we are looking for in foster parents. We all know that they just don’t want to step out of their comfort zones and into positively participating in changing the trajectory of children and bio parent’s lives.
When my phone rings, no matter the time or how busy (or not) that I am, I rarely answer. I let it turn to voicemail, filtering the message to determine if it’s something I want to deal with, save for later or—let’s be honest—blatantly ignore. So why, on an early August morning when I heard God calling me toward adoption, did I decide to tune in, on what would otherwise be the first ring?
It was the first week of August 2018 and I went out for a walk with our dog, tuned into a random podcast and heard the hosts speaking on adoption. Adoption had always sounded like a nice idea but was not yet on our radar. Nevertheless, I came home from that walk and told my husband all about it, ending with something like, “We have to do this.” I think he was probably a little shocked, that my usually detail-minded and indecisive self would be so spontaneous and certain. Months later we’d learn that our son was born on nearly the exact morning I felt that nudge. Even later, we’d be amazed to find that our son legally became our child on the anniversary of the night my husband and I started dating. To put it clearly, we have no question as to the divine intervention that orchestrated the growth of our family.
“Seeing the beauty doesn’t diminish the pain.”
Kelli Belt is the host of the podcast, Beauty is Rising. She’s the mother of 3 and a wife of 21-years. Kelli’s 7-year journey to adopt her daughter from Ethiopia led her to the work she focuses on today: equipping adoptive mothers with what they need to be happy right now, and connecting those mothers to a larger community of support.