Parents on the adoption journey are told to prepare their hearts and minds that their child may reject one or both parents for a myriad of reasons. While we would like to all say “it will never happen to me”, it very well could. Today’s stories are told from the perspective of both a mom and a dad who experienced rejection by their newly adopted children. Emotionally, this can be very hard on a parent’s heart. Today they’re going to share the story of their journeys through this time.
A Mom’s Perspective: Rejection, we have all had it happen to us at some point. Whether it was a grade school crush, not making the team, being denied entrance to your dream school or turned down for a job; being rejected stings but we have all been through it and moved on. What happens when it is a bigger rejection than you could ever imagine? What if it is a child that you have loved from around the world for months or even years before meeting them in person? I was the rejected one and have lived to tell the tale.
We met our son just before his 4th birthday, and I had been madly in love with him the two years we were waiting to meet this amazing little guy. He, on the other hand, had different feelings. He was living in a supportive and loving environment with women who doted on him and cared for him like he was their own. Needless to say, he did not have a need for me, another woman who was trying to take the place of those already in his heart.
Daddy, however, was a new novelty and he clung to my husband and laughed and played all day. If I had the nerve to get near him the tears would start, the feet and hands would start swinging and the screaming, (bless his heart…the screaming!), would begin. While we were in country it actually worked out ok with this heart wrenching arrangement as one of us had to handle a lot of adoption related events. The plane ride home was another story – a swift kick to my ribs ensured that I would stay awake for the 36 hours of travel, guaranteeing that I would not dare touch his seat.
Once back at home we could settle into a better routine and I slowly, and I mean SLOWLY, gained his trust. I didn’t deserve it right off the bat by any means, but he did make me work for it. No one on the outside of our family knew the struggle that was going on as I felt like a failure as a mother. I knew I wasn’t, but it hurt. It hurt worse than any required reading or support group could ever have prepared me for. All I could do was be as close to him as he would let me until one day I pushed that boundary and held him. The cries that came out of him were the most painful and heart breaking cries I have ever heard, the kind of cry that pushes a parents heart to the point of shattering.
He wanted me to let him go. I couldn’t do that though. He was hurting, and like it or not, I was his mother. So, I held him, and I cried with him, and told him I was sorry for his loss. I knew he was scared. I told him it was okay to be mad, and that I loved him. Finally, out of breath, he looked up at me and wiped my tears away and buried his head in my shoulder.
A few nights later, we were tucking him to bed. I was getting ready to leave daddy to sit with him for a bit, when he motioned for daddy to leave and for me to sit next to him. I have never leapt so fast in my life. That night, as I hurled myself across the room to his bed, he curled up on me, wrapped his little arms around my waist, looked up and smiled before drifting off to sleep. That was the night he let me be his mommy and I knew that he was no longer just tolerating me. He was trusting me.
This was a process that took months. How many? I am not even sure any more. Now it all seems like a blur. In the grand scheme of life, it was a tiny blip on the radar, and one that he has no memory of. Is every family who has a rough start going to end up with a happy ending? Maybe. Maybe not. However painful your journey may be though, please know, you are not alone. There are other parents who have been through it, who can support you. It is excruciating and so very isolating. Please don’t cry alone in the dark. Please reach out for support and let your child know that it is okay that they are hurting, and that you are hurting with them.
A Dad’s Perspective: As an adoptive father to eleven children, I have seen both sides of the rejection issue many times. Sometimes I was the “preferred” parent, other times not. Neither side is particularly easy. Adoption, in general, is not particularly easy though.
Watching your spouse hurt when the child they’ve waited for forever won’t let them touch or hold them is very hard. The preferred parent feels pressure to meet the child’s needs more often because that’s what the child wants, and the child needs to have his needs met, right? The preferred parent also feels guilt for being preferred and concerned for the child’s relationship with the rejected parent, but maybe also a bit of (gasp!) satisfaction in being preferred. Everyone likes to feel needed, it’s a good feeling.
Being the rejected parent feels awful. There’s just no other way to explain it. Because it feels awful, it’s probably better to prepare for it, to know that it might be coming, and to develop some strategies for dealing with it.
When we adopted Tess, our now 5-year-old daughter, my wife, Becky, travelled to get her and I stayed home with our other kids. Upon Becky and Tess’s arrival home I was SO READY to give all my love and care to this medically fragile little girl. It turns out though, she wanted nothing to do with me. She squirmed in my arms to get away from me, and cried more when I tried to comfort her. She had a severe Congenital Heart Defect, the more she cried, the bluer she became. I had to let my wife do all of the caring for her for awhile. This was so hard.
As a man, I always felt I should “be a man” about it. In retrospect, it was kind of a “sour grapes” attitude. “I didn’t like that person anyway.” “That job was to long a commute anyway.” “They’ll be sorry later…” That attitude doesn’t work when it’s your kid rejecting you. You have to learn to push away the bad thoughts, to let it not become personal, and to keep at it, stay the course. It’ll get better bit by bit.
Talking to Becky about it helped. Later, she became the rejected parent when we brought another daughter home. We’ll never know exactly why our children rejected one or the other of us at the beginning. It’s another piece of their past that’s a mystery. We both agreed that this can be the most disheartening and frustrating times of an adoption.
Tess has been with us for 3 years and 4 months now. Sometimes, I like to ask her, jokingly, “who is your favorite, me, or your mom?” She always answers very diplomatically, “I love both of you.”
I know she does.
There isn’t really a magic formula to making this better. It hurts for awhile. Letting it hurt is probably the best plan, as well as being honest with people supporting you about how bad it is. I know how hard that is for men to do that. We were always honest with our Social Worker at our post-placement visits about how hard it was. She was great about understanding and having some ideas for routines we could change to encourage bonding with the rejected parent.
This is a great time to use all that pre-adoption training that we all listen to but think “this will never happen to us.” I’m lucky to have a wife who hands me books written by people like Karyn Purvis and Deborah Gray. These resources helped remind me that this IS normal, and that it too, shall pass.